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Going to get tougher
Lawmakers reflect on '10 session
District 23 state Sen. Mark Hamilton talks during a legislative roundup Wednesday at the Cumming Playhouse. Seated from left are District 51 state Sen. Chip Pearson, District 9 state Rep. Amos Amerson, District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy and District 24 state Rep. Tom Knox. - photo by Jennifer Sami
Forsyth County’s legislative delegates lightened up Wednesday morning with a bit of a roast-style recap of the recent session.

Organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the event began with breakfast at Tam’s Backstage before moving next door to the Cumming Playhouse.

State legislators introduced each other with a few punch lines before wading into issues such as water, economic development, education and the state budget.

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy spoke first, because as District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton put it, “We knew that we were on a limited time schedule this morning, and ... Jack has never met a mic he didn’t like.”

Murphy talked about closing a loophole to require pickup truck drivers to wear seat belts, as well as his own bill that bans texting while driving.

The bill, which assesses a $150 fine, was accompanied by another measure that bans all cell phone use for teen drivers.

“At first we just looked at teenagers,” he said. “We came out with two good bills and the governor is expected to sign both bills.”

District 51 state Sen. Chip Pearson talked about two bills, one establishing a study on water interconnectivity and his economic development council legislation.

“The state spends literally hundreds of millions every year in the form of economic development,” he said. “But nowhere is there sort of an umbrella agency or authority or a set of eyeballs that looks at all of the different places that we spend money.

“The goal of this council is ... to look in a comprehensive way at all the ways that the state encourages, spends money for or through tax credits, incentivizes economic development.”

For Pearson and District 24 state Rep. Tom Knox, the 2010 session was their last.

Pearson, a Dawsonville businessman, opted not to seek re-election. Knox is running for state insurance and safety fire commissioner.

Three Republicans — Mike Dudgeon, Anna McManus and Douglas Wright — are vying for Knox’s post.

Pearson’s seat, which represents some of north Forsyth, will be filled by either Republican Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega businessman, or Democrat Joseph Mann of Mineral Bluff.

Hamilton and Murphy, both of Cumming, as well as District 9 state Rep. Amos Amerson of Dahlonega, are running unopposed.

Knox, who spent 10 years in the House, praised the election and leadership of new speaker David Ralston.

“I think we have probably the best delegation in the Georgia General Assembly and I’m really proud to have served with them and I wish them well,” Knox said.

“We can count on them I think to do what’s right for Forsyth County and for the state of Georgia.”

Amerson, whose district includes some of Dawson, Forsyth and Lumpkin counties, is counting on an even more difficult session next year.

He noted how $20 million was cut from higher education in the state’s budget, a shortfall that will be covered by a tuition hike.

“It’s tough out there,” he said. “It’s going to get tougher.”

With federal stimulus money helping to match $3 for every $1 the state spends toward Medicaid, Amerson said “that’s how we’ve balanced this budget.”

But in 2012, when federal funding will drop to $2, “it’s going to get worse,” he said.

Hamilton talked about his bill to pilot a program allowing overseas voters to cast a ballot electronically.

He also touched on his bill removing penalties for individuals that have received corrective eye surgery but didn’t update their driver’s license to indicate they no longer need glasses.

Many bills passed this session, but the most complex matter was the budget, which Hamilton said required about $1.5 billion from the state’s “rainy day” fund to balance.

“We’re going to probably look at another $1 billion to $1.2 billion in additional cuts we’re going to have to make,” he said of the 2011 session.

“Get ready, because next year’s going to be a very difficult year.”