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Legislative study committees tackle prescription drug abuse, music incentives, internet access

POSTED: January 10, 2017 6:22 p.m.
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Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega

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Legislation is emerging from several study committees formed last year by state lawmakers looking to address a drug epidemic and economic development in Georgia, and local politicians are heavily involved in preparing bills to submit in the coming weeks.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, led the charge on organizing a study committee to tackle the prescription drug epidemic ravishing communities in Georgia and across the nation.

“It’s far-reaching,” Miller said of the public health threat. “It is truly an epidemic.”

The panel of state senators, medical providers and public health officials began meeting in September.

Meetings included a focus on how law enforcement and the courts are handling abuse and the effect it has on health care, the foster care system and treatment centers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,200 people overdosed on drugs in Georgia in 2014, a 10 percent increase from 2013.

And prescription drugs, notably opioid-based painkillers, have claimed a larger percentage of that total in recent years.

Miller said he expects legislators, with the backing of Gov. Nathan Deal, to support an omnibus bill that would cover a wide range of issues, including stronger regulations on recordkeeping, funding for neonatal care and support for foster families whose children have been impacted by the drug abuse epidemic.

THE MUSIC ECONOMY

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, first began exploring tax incentives for the music industry when Gov. Sonny Perdue was in office.

“I’m concerned we are losing so much of our talent,” he said. “I want to keep these folks here.”

But while state lawmakers approved incentives for the movie industry, which has turned Georgia into something like Hollywood East, the music business was left behind.

Hawkins is hoping that will change this year and Georgia can work to become the new Nashville, Memphis or New Orleans after the Joint Music Economic Development Study Committee met this fall to examine ways to “measure, expand and promote” music and foster connections between recorded music and other arts, such as film, digital media and gaming.

Promoting music tourism, college education in music and new studio spaces for artists to record their work were some of the key ideas to emerge from the committee.

“It’s a multifaceted approach to providing some incentives to the music industry similar to what we did for film,” Hawkins said.

Georgia provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend half a million dollars or more during production and post-production in the state. The state offers another 10 percent tax credit if a promotional logo provided by the state is included in the final cut.

Hawkins said he would like to see the incentives given to filmmakers extended to musicians.

“I’m optimistic that we can come up with something everyone can agree on,” he added.  

BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, spearheaded a joint committee of lawmakers to consider tax incentives and new investments in expanding broadband internet access to rural parts of the state, including Northeast Georgia.

Poor internet service and limited wireless access “hampers” economic development, Gooch said, and many Georgians are paying for internet speeds and services they are not receiving.

The committee made 26 recommendations in its final report after touring the state and meeting with businesses, school districts, local governments and residents.

Gooch said he is currently working on a draft bill that would codify many of these recommendations, which include establishing a broadband investment fund at the state level; promoting the use of special purpose local option sales tax revenues to expand wireless networks; providing tax credits and incentives to businesses and individuals that invest in broadband infrastructure in rural areas; and supporting public-private partnerships to improve broadband speeds.

This could also include expanding universal access fees, and requiring a local match, for broadband providers to deliver higher-quality internet service to rural areas, and establishing wireless antennas on streetlight and telephone poles to connect local business districts.

Gainesville, for example, is looking to establish a free wireless broadband hotspot in the downtown square to improve e-commerce, recruit new businesses, provide educational opportunities in an outdoor setting and promote cultural events in the historic heart of the city.

Gooch said extensive reviews and debate remain on a comprehensive bill, but he’s committed to the process.

“It may take a while,” he added. “We want to take our time to get it right.”



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