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State chamber official: Water, transportation key issues for legislature
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An executive with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce predicted water and transportation will take center stage when the General
Assembly convenes in January.

Joe Fleming, senior vice president of government affairs for the statewide business organization, offered his perspective Tuesday during a meeting at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

"There are two must-do issues for the General Assembly, and they are water and transportation," Fleming said.

"Whether we were in a crisis or not, the General Assembly has to vote on this plan that is coming from the state water council," he said. "If it passes, it essentially becomes the framework or the principles that will guide future rule-making by the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Division."

He said the legislature has the option of turning down the plan and writing one of its own.

Beyond the plan, Fleming said if the drought continues, it could have an adverse effect on the state’s economy.

"So much of industry and commerce in the state requires water," Fleming said. "Many of these facilities, such as the poultry industry in this area, require water as a part of the processing system."

On the transportation front, Fleming said plans for the state’s future cannot wait.

"There has got to be a plan put in place today to deal with the problems we’ve got now and the problems we’re going to have 25 years from now," he said, adding that there are transportation needs throughout the state.

Fleming said the chamber would renew its fight with the National Rifle Association over a bill that would prevent employers from restricting guns on their premises.

The chamber, he said, views the bill as a private property issue and not as a vote on a gun issue.

He said the business organization has not taken a position on House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s plans to replace property taxes in the state with an additional sales tax. Several local public officials, including Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan, made clear their opposition to the idea.

In a response, members of the Hall County legislative delegation made no firm commitment on the tax proposal.

Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, said he wanted to see a final draft of the proposed constitutional amendment before making a decision.

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, said he had already heard from constituents in Jackson County complaining about the amount of their current property tax bills.

On another issue, Mills, who has been serving on a joint House-Senate study committee on transportation, said there may be a need for toll lanes to speed traffic to Atlanta.

He suggested that current paved shoulders on Interstate 85 and 285 could be brought to highway quality to make room for so-called "hot" lanes around traffic. Mills also questioned why Georgia has not explored reversible High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that have been used in other states.

He also suggested that the state needs to continue to explore transportation alternatives, including bus, rail and air travel.