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Leaders meet, address issues
Forum includes student input
James McCoy, president and CEO of the local chamber of commerce, talks to officials after the meeting. - photo by Jennifer Sami
From marijuana to money, Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation touched on a range of topics during a pre-session forum Tuesday.

The annual Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce event was held at Lambert High School, where students were able to ask questions of their local representatives.

District 9 state Rep. Amos Amerson of Dahlonega was unable to attend the forum, and District 51 state Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville had to leave for a meeting before fielding student questions.

But the other three local legislators, all of whom are Republicans, said they were more nervous talking to students than adults.

“Adults are predictable,” said District 27 Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming. “But you young adults, sometimes, you’re not predictable.”

One unpredictable question came near the end of the event, when one student asked if the legislators would consider legalizing marijuana for the tax benefits.

Citing reasons such as addiction and car wrecks, the legislators agreed the negative impacts of legalization would far exceed the tax benefits.

Lambert students Sara Evans, Enille Franco, Caity Hodge and Kenneth Stroer each introduced a legislator during the forum.

Pearson spoke first, briefing students on what he expects the upcoming session to bring.

“We’re in a time that most of us have never seen,” Pearson said of the budget shortfalls.

But with the budget being the top priority this session, Pearson said the goal is to look at the state’s problems and opportunities and end up “in better shape than any state in the union.”

District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming said trimming the budget is going to be a difficult challenge.

“Programs are just going to have to be cut. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “We really need to be careful about drawing battle lines because we’re all in this together.”

Both Murphy and Pearson also talked about preparing for water shortages in the wake the recent years-long drought. Though lake levels have returned to normal, both legislators would like to prevent similar conditions in the future.

Murphy’s plan involves changing the full pool level of Lake Lanier, the area’s main source of water, from 1,071 to 1,073 feet above sea level.

He said it’s the quick solution before implementing Pearson’s push to build more reservoirs.

All delegates except Hamilton took a swipe at the federal health care legislation being discussed in Congress.

District 24 state Rep. Tom Knox of Cumming said the state has no control over 80 percent of its health care dollars.

“The federal government does,” he said. “If you go back 50 years, the federal government had almost no role in health care.”

Knox said he is “very concerned” about the proposals floating in Congress and the financial impact they could have on Georgia’s budget.

But when asked by a student if the state would opt out of a federal health care bill, Knox said it’s likely to cost more to opt out than to go with the plan.

“If it’s sold here, if it’s used here, I don’t know why the federal government is butting in,” he said.

Cindy J. Mills, chair of the chamber’s Public Policy Development Committee, called the event a success, noting this is only the second time the legislative forum has been held in a school.

During the forum, Mills said it was a “culmination of the business community with the school community that ... is hopefully invigorating our youth.”