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3 hottest topics for debate this session, according to Hall County's legislators
Q-and-A with state senators, representatives
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The following responses from local legislators have been edited for grammar, spelling and to adhere to Associated Press style. They have been cut to meet a 200-word count limit.

What three issues do you think will be hottest this session and where do you stand on them?

SEN. BUTCH MILLER

1. Education is the area where we will be the most able to have an impact, and there are definitely some things that need to change. Of highest importance is facilitating an environment where teachers can be teachers again.

2. Terrorism will definitely use up some oxygen during the session. With the events in Paris and Daesh* (Islamic State) causing a ruckus in Syria, Jordan and Palestine, this topic has unfortunately entered into the everyday conversations of Americans. The state of Georgia can only have so much impact, but we can bolster data security for the financial and data processing industries here and harden some physical infrastructure, like our power grid and reservoirs. Most importantly, we can continue to live our lives and refuse to let them win.

3. Finally, health care: Everything from billing practices, health care infrastructure stabilization, access to care, workforce development, telemedicine, EMS services and improved access to health care in rural areas of the state.

SEN. JOHN WILKINSON

1. Assessment of our state’s anti-terrorism plan. We must evaluate where we are and do what is necessary to keep our cities and counties safe. This will require the cooperation of all the public safety agencies in our state. I will support legislation that will make things difficult for terrorists and that will keep our citizens safe in our increasingly dangerous world. We have to be proactive.

2. Health care infrastructure stabilization. We must continue to work to provide outstanding health care to our citizens in the most economical, efficient way possible. When we consider legislation, we must be sure that we make it a level playing field for providers and that we do not pick winners and losers. I will support legislation that makes it possible for rural health care providers to compete.

3. Providing additional educational opportunities to our students. Career and technical education is becoming increasingly important as an avenue to prepare students for a career and a well-paying job. I will support legislation that provides more educational opportunities for our students in career and technical education. We must continue to emphasize the dignity of labor and the importance of a good work ethic in our society.

REP. TIMOTHY BARR

1. As a father of three amazing children, I’m constantly reminded of how important our education system is to ensuring a brighter future. I’ve been carefully considering recommendations from Gov. Deal’s Commission on Education Reform. It’s crucial the General Assembly examines and acts on this report.

2. Another issue that will be integral to my legislative efforts is boosting our state's economy. Running my own small business, I’ve had to navigate jungles of red tape and tax codes, which is why I am for a Fair Tax for Georgia. I’ve experienced firsthand how big government can hinder small businesses, which drive our economy. This is why we need to continue to make it easier for Georgians to start a business and create jobs. The governor has been an instrumental leader in making Georgia the No. 1 place to do business and it has been a privilege to be a part of this.

3. One hot issue will be casino gambling and whether we should legalize it in Georgia. A lot of research shows that casinos would have a negative impact on our communities. I don’t want to see lives ruined and entire communities negatively affected, which is why I am opposed to legalization.

REP. EMORY DUNAHOO

1. Merit pay for teachers. I do not support merit pay that is tied to standardized test scores, as is being proposed by the Education Reform Commission, or merit pay disguised as a method to reduce base pay for teachers with merit pay making up the difference. I do support merit pay for teachers determined by their local school and district that rewards innovative teaching and hard work.

2. Casinos and horse racing. This would bring an estimated $1.5-2 billion in tax money. I believe the byproducts of crime, prostitution and gambling addictions outweigh the benefits in affected areas. Many have stated they oppose gambling but are willing to listen if taxes are doubled. Does that mean that our state has a price? I am a "no" for this issue and believe the Fair Tax would go further to fix our problems where every 1 percent tax brings in $2.8 billion.

3. Transportation still needs attention as the $900 million tax should begin to fix dilapidated roads in our state. There never seems to be enough money for transportation or education. Also we should produce our own medical marijuana through UGA Agriculture with strict guidelines to benefit our own state.

REP. LEE HAWKINS

1. The Governor’s Education Reform Commission has released findings on improving the quality of education in Georgia. Some of the suggestions will be controversial, such as changes to teachers’ compensation. My sister and two daughters-in-law are teachers, and I understand their struggles and their commitment to their students. Teachers spend long hours attaining their education and teaching our children. Raises based on performance sound reasonable and are the norm in many professions, but applying that to the teaching profession is tenuous at best.

2. The issue of religious freedom sounds like a topic that should not be up for debate. Our country was founded upon this principle. At the heart of this matter is the question, do we take away the rights of some to ensure the rights of others? Creating legislation that ensures goodwill and kindness among people is a challenge that has eluded generations of legislators.

3. Health care is a continually changing issue. The more government gets involved, the greater the complications become. There are remaining issues to be resolved such as insurance coverage for autism, addressing the increase of overdose deaths in Georgia due to drugs like fentanyl and finding a solution for the availability of CBD oil.

REP. CARL ROGERS

Each year our primary responsibility is to pass a balanced state budget and an amended FY 17. Following this will come the larger issues of the governor’s education reform, tax reform, the Religious Freedom Act and the recently pre-filed Cannabis Oil Cultivation Act. Then, once the newly proposed legislations are assigned to a committee, the process begins.

Each will be presented and reviewed, then voted up or down by the committee members. As legislation is forwarded to the House for vote, rest assured our delegation is committed to working diligently for our districts and county.

I am proud to be involved with each one, and know that I can expect from them the same support that I intend to give. Your opinion matters, so please feel free to call.

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