This year’s Georgia General Assembly legislative session ended in early April, and this week, local lawmakers had a chance to go over the session with their constituents.
On Tuesday morning, members of the legislative delegation met at Sawnee EMC on Atlanta Highway for the annual Post-Legislative Session Breakfast hosted by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to say a personal word of thanks,” said Paul Chamber with AT&T, who served as moderator. “This, as I’ve said many times before, is a very thoughtful, business-friendly, common-sense delegation that we have here in Forsyth County. For that, we can be very grateful.”
Attendees had a chance to both submit questions and take part in a survey of what they felt the most important business issues for legislators to address, which they responded were transportation, lowering taxes, reducing business regulations and improving schools, respectively.
The event was attended by state Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-27) and state Reps. Wes Cantrell (R-22), Sheri Gilligan (R-24), Todd Jones (R-25), Marc Morris (R-26) and Kevin Tanner (R-9) and covered a variety of topics. State Sen. Steve Gooch (R-51) could not attend due to a death in his family.
Getting in and out of Forsyth County is one of the biggest issues for residents, so it should come as no surprise it came up during the meeting after the delegation was asked whether they supported the expansion of MARTA into Forsyth County.
Kevin Tanner, who serves as chair of the House transportation committee, said while he could see other types of transit, he believed the time for expanding rail had passed.
“If you chose to, the county commission could have a tax voted in by the taxpayers, the voters, to help fund some kind of alternate mobility,” Tanner said.
Tanner said those options could include more busses or bus rapid-transit lanes along Ga. 400.
Dolezal said the state needed to look into innovative solutions for transportation, including autonomous vehicles like those from as Tesla, which are expected to be fully autonomous, or Level 5 autonomy.
“We are moving faster and faster into technological innovation,” Dolezal said. “Level 3 autonomy [or conditional automation] is what Tesla has in their cars today. Next year we’re going to have 5.”
Several members of the delegation have committed to self-imposed term limits and reaffirmed them at the breakfast, but others said such a policy would be less effective if not imposed statewide.
Dolezal, who said he plans to stay in the office a maximum of eight years, said he was also pushing for term limits for lieutenant governor, held by Forsyth County resident Geoff Duncan.
“With the support of the lieutenant governor, I introduced a bill at the end of this session this year that we’ll hear the next session that will hopefully pass that will term-limit the office of lieutenant governor, as well,” he said. “It’s not often that you get somebody that is in a position that actually works to term-limit their own seat, and I was happy to work with Lt. Gov. Duncan on that as well. I will be introducing legislation next year to term-limit the entire legislature.”
Cantrell said he had previously introduced similar legislation in the House, which he said was “not a well-received proposal.”
Gilligan, who previously told Forsyth County News she had trouble moving legislation this year after signing a letter requesting that state Speaker of the House David Ralston step down from the position amid concerns he was using the position to repeatedly delay court cases in his private sector role as an attorney, said there should also be limits on leadership.
Marc Morris said while he understood self-imposed term limits, he felt they were not as effective unless applied statewide.
“It only works if it’s across the board, because if your delegation continues to go down and cycle out [every] four, six, eight years, understand you’re competing against people in south Georgia that will have 10, 12, 14, 16, 20 years, and those are going to be your chairmen. Those are going to be your leadership,” Morris said.
The only requirement of the general assembly is members must pass a budget for the following year. This session, a $27.5 billion budget was approved, including spending on schools.
“With our board of education back there [in the crowd] and our superintendent, fully funding [quality basic education, a formula for funding state school], I think that is a big deal for our school system,” Jones said. “I think the second one is that we were able to put a security allotment for each school, and the school system will be working, I’m sure, with Sheriff [Ron] Freeman. I’m absolutely confident they will come up with a great plan and be able to use all that money going into the schools for security.”
Gilligan said another bit of funding would help clean up Lake Lanier.
“I was just trying to find out if it had been signed, but $25,000 is in the budget to get the derelict vessels out of Lake Lanier, so that’s huge for Forsyth County and the Lake Lanier community,” she said.
Forsyth County reputation
With an active delegation, lieutenant governor and top positions on both the lieutenant governor’s and governor’s staffs, Forsyth County residents are making a big splash at the state level.
“I was new this year. You don’t know what you don’t know when you’re walking into any new job, but what became clear to me very quickly whether it was in the committee assignments, getting the committees I asked for, whether it was talking to my colleagues in the House … there is a gravitas for Forsyth County that is not lost on Gov. [Brian] Kemp, who a third of his margin statewide came from this county,” Dolezal said.
Tanner said the county had a reputation for being a leader on a variety of issues from education to non-profits to dealing with opioids and said “Forsyth County is going to have a great seat at the table moving forward.”“Forsyth influences all over the Capital, whether it is Mike Dudgeon in the policy office of the lieutenant governor’s office or Mark [Hamilton,] the external affairs director in the governor’s office,” he said. “You’ve got a great delegation here at this table that work hard for you.”