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Friday, January 05, 2018

NOTES FROM THE SENATE, JANUARY 5, 2018

ISSUES OF THE 2018 SESSION-PART I

The 2018 Session of the General Assembly begins or will have begun on January 8, 2018. Because this is the second year of the biennial, legislation that did not pass in 2017 could possibly move through the system faster and voting on some issues could happen very early in the Legislative Session...or not. There are a lot of reasons, political and strategic, why legislation does not move on a linear scale to completion. If a bill did not get voted upon in 2017, one reason could be its controversial content. That could indicate it won't move any faster this year or, if opposing sides have gotten together in the interim, conflicting issues could have been worked out and passage could happen expeditiously.

So, here, in no particular priority, are some issues that are expected to be considered at some level this Session. Some ideas make a big splash when introduced but never make it out of committee. And there are always sleeper issues no one saw coming that arrive on the scene and due to public interest, get considered.

THE OPIOID CRISIS

One of the most publicized crises both nationally and in Georgia as well. The Lt .Governor's Health Policy Committee spent a whole committee day on the crisis and other studies have been completed. This column covered a State Audit recently. It appears that the medications that can be used to control addiction and help recovery are not readily available statewide and that a system for distribution and the funding to make that happen are still to be developed. Look for more data examination in preventing prescription abuse and then there is the whole issue of illegal and dangerous drugs that addicts move into from prescription abuse.

CASINOS

Seems to be now a yearly issue that has yet to be voted upon. There is great interest, however. My questionnaire that polled the Fourth District last year showed 51% in favor of voting on casinos in Georgia. I have been concerned about the business model and what I believe is the small amount of payoff for the state. Also, there is concern that casino gambling in the state could harm the Georgia Lottery where the state is appropriating $1.1 billion to education from those proceeds to fund HOPE and Pre-K.

USE OF CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING

Texting while driving is already illegal, now, but there seems to be growing support to ban all cell phone use while driving. The first thing investigators of auto accidents do is to check cell phone records to see if a driver was on the phone when the accident occurred. A number of groups including Physicians organizations are supporting this ban. One local government has already moved to ban cellphone use.

THE ADOPTION BILL

HB 159, which became SB 130, became known as the Adoption Bill, basically rewrote Georgia's adoption legislation for the first time proponents said in 27 years. An amendment in the Senate led to a floor fight and the bill failed to pass. The bill generally liberalizes adoption, lowering adults' age to adopt and eliminating the 6 month waiting period, among other changes. This might be a bill that does get faster consideration early in the Session.

RURAL DEVELOPMENT

"Two Georgias" is a phrase decades old, but population numbers always show the basic problem in rural Georgia...population shrinking or not growing at the same rate as regional trade centers generally and the Atlanta third of the state in particular. Conversion from a farming economy and lack of job growth have led to the on-going problem of slow economic development. What manufacturing many of these areas had, disappeared through the years and has not been replaced. Both the House and the Senate had study committees on the issue and there will be, apparently, concrete proposals. One idea publicized recently would be some sort of tax credit for someone who moves to a rural area. This is different from credits that focus on jobs, which usually leads to population growth. Not a simple problem and not just unique to Georgia.

BROADBAND ACCESS

If you listened to community leadership testimony during the Rural study committees that traveled the state this past year, the one pervasive problem seeking a statewide solution is broadband distribution for unserved or underserved regions. Quality, consistent, reliable connections to the world outside is vital to every community bar none. And it is not just a problem in the mountains or rural Georgia. Areas of urban and suburban counties are left out as well, when return on investment drives where communications improvements locate. This may be the basis for some sort of communications fee. Troubling, though, was the reluctance of telecommunications companies to put a price tag on broadband extension statewide. New technology plays a role.

To follow: Issues like Job creation/venture capital, Electronic Voting Paper ballots, Federal/state Tax Reform, Local Law Enforcement compensation, Mass Transit, Evaluating Tax Credits/Exemptions, and Cannabis Oil Expansion among others.

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