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Legislators ready for 2013 session
Forsyth adds voting power with new seats
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Forsyth County News

When the 2013 Georgia General Assembly begins Monday, Forsyth County will have the most representation in its history.

As a result of last year’s redistricting process, the county gained two seats in the House of Representatives for a total of five.

Those lawmakers will be joined by two senators whose districts include Forsyth as they tackle key issues ranging from transportation to a budget shortfall.

“This will be the first legislative session that the new Forsyth County delegation is in place and so obviously we have more votes now than we have in the past, so it makes it a little easier for us to prioritize what needs to happen up here,” said District 24 Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming.

“It’s going to give us a little more voting power and I think that is a good example of how Forsyth County will have more voting power in what we do.”

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming said coming up with a balanced budget will be the top priority for the session.

“We’re going to have approximately a $700 million shortfall between the 2013 and 2014 budgets,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t cut services … and not have them deteriorate.”

About $300 million of that deficit could come from an extension of the hospital bed tax, which helps fund the state’s Medicaid program for the poor.

“The hospitals have come out overwhelmingly in favor of that because they get federal funds for Medicaid,” Murphy said. “They don’t want to lose that, but if we’re going to lose $300 million by extending that, where are we going to get that money to make it up?”

All seven members of Forsyth’s state legislative delegation are Republicans. Among the new faces is Geoff Duncan, whose House District 26 covers the eastern half of the county.

Duncan, a former professional baseball player and current business owner, said supporting job and small business growth will be his top priority when he’s sworn in.

He plans to “look for ways to allow small businesses to succeed in the state of Georgia and continue to look for ways for government to move out of the way and allow for them to be in control of their future.”

According to Duncan, “A huge part of what I want to accomplish is to get us back to a mentality of where we the people are in control of our own destiny.”

Another part of creating jobs in the state is taxes, said District 51 Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega.

“Any kind of tax reform or economic development incentives to try to recruit jobs back to Georgia is always one of our top goals and objectives, so we’ll be looking for ways to make Georgia a better atmosphere and better environment for job creation,” he said.

Transportation funding will remain a big issue, according to Gooch, especially after most of the state’s regions voted down a proposed sales tax to fund infrastructure improvements.

He also anticipates some form of ethics bill to come up, with more than 80 percent of Georgians voting to limit gifts from lobbyists.

Ethics reform will be a goal for District 22 state Rep. Calvin Hill of Canton, whose district includes Forsyth’s southwestern corner. To Hill, the measure will be less about lobbyist money and focused more on tax cheats.

“The price of a dinner has nothing to do with ethics,” he said. “People that are tax defaulters, I would like to keep them from holding elected office anywhere in the state.”

Hill, who previously represented District 21, is not new to the House. He was first elected in 2002 and currently serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

In addition to the budget and ethics, Hill said he wants to “work very closely on gun control legislation to allow the local school districts to set their own policy on how they’re going to handle gun control.”

With a background in public safety, incoming District 9 Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville said he’s looking forward to an active role in criminal justice legislation.

Tanner, Dawson County’s former manager, succeeds Amos Amerson of Dahlonega in the district, which includes the tip of northwest Forsyth.

“One piece of legislation that I’m going to be introducing that I’m drafting now is a legislation relating to the sex offender board,” Tanner said. “The juvenile justice code, it’s also been in bad need of rewriting for years and there will be major legislation that will come forward on that over the next few weeks … I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting started.”

District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth will devote much of his legislative activity to education, something he’s passionate about as a former member of the Forsyth County Board of Education.

Dudgeon, who served his first term in District 24, now represents south Forsyth and a portion of north Fulton.

Dudgeon said he’s working on two bills. The first is to “increase flexibility and accountability changes.”

“It is basically allowing really good school systems to get flexibility from the state mandates ... and other schools that are not as good to get flexibility as long as they’re working on a plan for improvement,” he said. “It’s really more about local control.”

Dudgeon said the new plan would replace the Investing in Education Excellence, or IE2, contract that Forsyth County holds, resulting in fewer hoops for high-achieving systems to jump through.

His other bill would renew the angel investor tax credit, which he said would continue to encourage people to invest in high-technology start-up companies to promote technology growth in Georgia.

“It’s a very small tax credit, relatively speaking, with a huge return for start-up companies in creating jobs,” Dudgeon said.

Hamilton, who is shifting from District 23 to 24, will continue serving an area that includes Cumming and the county’s center.

He’s got a couple of bills he hopes will pass this session, including one to offer protection for park rangers and another based on the recent sheriff’s election in Forsyth.

“I plan on trying to fix that so the sheriff has similar, if not the same qualification requirements as all the positions,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got to clean that up.”

Other activity he’s expecting this session include clean-up measures on previous bills, including illegal immigration and the change in the ad valorem tax.