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Jobs, water, roads topped issues at annual breakfast
Immigration bill to see small changes
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The Gainesville Civic Center was filled to capacity Thursday for the annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast. - photo by Tom Reed

Wish lists presented to the local delegation

Following Thursday morning's annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, state legislators from Hall County spent the balance of the day meeting with local government groups and business and health care leaders about their hopes and concerns for the upcoming legislative session.

Here is a list of the groups who met with the delegation and their requests.

Lanier Technical College

  • Maintain funding for enrollment.
  • Support some $3.5 million in repairs to older buildings.
  • Fund the construction of a multi-story 120,000-square-foot building that would serve as the "new front door" to the Oakwood campus and house classrooms, medical labs and a conference center. The cost of the building and its furnishings is estimated to be $43 million.

Gainesville State College

  • Stressed the importance of supporting the state university system's budget, citing the need to maintain a new building on campus.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center

  • Find funding for transportation infrastructure improvements, specifically mentioning support for the proposed penny sales tax that would fund road improvements near a future South Hall campus of the hospital.
  • Reconsider a tax charged to health care providers. Tony Herdener, chief financial officer for the hospital, said the hospital pays between $500,000 and $600,000 each month in the fee, which is supposed to sunset in June 2013.
  • Ensure that proposed open records legislation does not undermine competitiveness in the state.
  • Change code sections referring to required hospital accreditations to allow for new accreditation trends in the industry.

Joint Local Municipal Association, consisting of leaders of all of Hall County's municipalities

  • Protect franchise fees, which are paid by utility customers, for cities. City officials said the loss of franchise fee revenue could result in a significant property tax increase for their residents.
  • Leave dates for sales tax referenda up to local governments to decide instead of agreeing to suggestions by the tea party movement that all sales tax referenda occur on general elections.
  • Rewrite the requirements for receiving state funding for local repaving projects.
  • Support the deepening of the Savannah harbor to ensure the viability of industry in Hall County.
  • Scrutinize proposed legislation with regard to the state's open records law. City officials said the law needs to be streamlined but should not allow what they called abusive requests.
  • Revisit sweeping statewide immigration legislation. City officials said the law created unintended consequences that will create impractical paperwork for local governments, calling some aspects of the bill an unfunded mandate.

Gainesville Board of Education

  • Be cautious with changes to charter system funding.
  • Approve a map of school board districts that differs from City Council ward maps.

Brenau University

  • Remember that tuition increases have a higher impact on private school students than public.
  • Fight legislation that might keep private colleges from receiving HOPE funding. The limitation could cripple private schools.
  • Seek viable solutions to rising health care costs.

Hall County Board of Commissioners

  • Pass legislation that allows county governments to collect franchise fees from utility companies.
  • Help find creative ways to fund Glades Reservoir, such as a special tax district that would fund infrastructure development.
  • Change statewide law that keeps counties from having package stores in unincorporated areas.
  • Consider changing rules for special purpose local option sales tax that allow governments to use some of the revenues to support their operation costs.
  • Do not allow changes to the state's open meetings law to consider a meeting involving two commissioners a meeting with a quorum.

District 2 Public Health

  • Consider an increased tobacco tax to cut the number of smokers statewide.
  • Provide money in Medicaid programs that could be spent on smoking cessation programs.

Hall County Board of Education

  • Address austerity cuts to school systems first as state revenues rebound.
  • Repeal state law that bans cell phone use in schools.
  • Maintain funding for conversion charter programs.
  • Be careful with granting tax exemptions.
  • Improve the quality of virtual courses and offer virtual courses that are not commonly offered in high schools.

Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs

  • Oppose using inmates to staff fire stations as is done in some South Georgia counties.
  • Reconsider a bill that prohibits local governments from adopting fire sprinkler ordinances. The bill could have a negative impact on fire insurance rates in Hall County.
  • Restore funding for the Georgia Fire Academy.

Hall County Board of Tax Assessors

  • Reconsider a recent state law that changed tax assessments, specifically a section that requires the assessment to be based on the sale price one year after the date of the sale and then rebounds to fair market price.
  • Reconsider the same bill's requirement to use bank sales in a determination of a property's fair market value.
  • Do not renew a moratorium legislators set for raising assessments for home values.

Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff

  • Be wary of a revision of the juvenile code, which requires juvenile systems to incorporate "best practices" but has significant fiscal impacts.
  • Remember in budget decisions that the Department of Juvenile Justice is lacking in funds.

Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce

  • Settle date for the TSPLOST referendum.
  • Support interbasin transfers.
  • Support funding for reservoirs.
  • Support an upcoming competitiveness initiative by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Hall County Public Defenders

  • Repeal mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Find ways to correct inadequately funded cases.
  • Be wary of a revision of the juvenile code.

Hall County Superior Court Judges

  • Support recommendations of the governor's Criminal Justice Reform Council.
  • Expand treatment options for drug offenders.
  • Restore money to fund law clerks for superior court judges across the state.
  • Expand work release facilities in the state.
  • Consider changing some misdemeanor designations to "violations." The change, according to Judge Jason Deal, would save counties money in costs for public defenders.

Ashley Fielding

 

A two-course breakfast was served up Thursday at the Gainesville Civic Center — one of eggs, bacon and grits followed by an ample helping of politics.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and state legislators from Hall County laid out priorities and positions for Georgia policy in 2012 at the annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast.

The event is hosted each year by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce before the state's legislative session. It gives local business and government leaders a chance to hear from their state legislators.

The key issues Thursday morning, which were highlighted by Cagle, were jobs, water and transportation.

Cagle delivered a short message to a crowd of 400, emphasizing the need to create a better environment for businesses, particularly with manufacturing.

"Agriculture and manufacturing are the only areas where we produce something from nothing," Cagle said.

He proposed exemptions on sales tax for energy, something neighboring states already offer, as a way of drawing more businesses to the state.

Cagle also emphasized the need to improve transportation through a proposed penny tax for transportation and secure water resources, in part through regional reservoirs.

He mentioned by name the proposed Glades Reservoir, which Hall County officials are pursuing.

"Water is critical with long-term success," he said.

The local delegation members at the breakfast were Sen. Butch Miller, Rep. Carl Rogers, Rep. Doug Collins, and newly elected Emory Dunahoo Jr., who attended the meeting less than 48 hours after winning a runoff election for the 25th House District. Rep. Tommy Benton, who represents a portion of Hall County in the state House, was unable to attend for family reasons.

The attending legislators, all Republicans, reiterated Cagle's message of making Georgia more business friendly, before answering questions from the audience.

When asked about changes to the recently passed immigration bill, HB 87, Collins said the Georgia House could reconsider small changes to the bill to address concerns about workers in the agriculture industry.

"I think it's going to be more balanced moving forward," he said.

Rogers said changes to the immigration bill, however, would not be drastic. He said illegal immigration costs state taxpayers, and the bill addressed that.

"It's a very expensive proposition to open Pandora's box," he said.

When legislators were asked about education, Miller suggested recent legislation on school vouchers went too far, and said he would like to see most state education money stay in public schools.

"Your tax dollars shouldn't be spent in a private way," he said. "If you don't like the public golf course, go to a private one. But don't ask me to pay for it."

 

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