They may be off the clock, but area state representatives took time Friday to check in with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Sen. Butch Miller, Rep. Carl Rogers and Rep. Tommy Benton, who all represent Hall County in the General Assembly, were present at the Gainesville Civic Center to share what they perceived to be highlights and low points of the previous legislative session that ended April 14.
One of those was the bill to allow communities to vote on Sunday alcohol sales, a controversial proposal signed into law this week by Gov. Nathan Deal.
"We had a hearing on (Sunday alcohol sales), and we had a packed audience. I think the room holds maybe 150 people, we probably had 200 people there," Miller said.
"We (the state and local government committee) heard testimony for a couple of hours and we did not hear one single person speak against it. And therefore, having heard the testimony we asked what the pleasure of the committee was, and the pleasure was to pass it."
Once the issue made its way out of committee, it became "quite a firestorm," Miller says. "There were a number of people who didn't want it to come to the (Senate) floor, because they didn't want to vote on it, but you know what? They elected you to vote, right? They didn't elect you to sit on the sidelines," said Miller, who voted against the bill that passed the Senate by a 32-22 vote.
"We had far more important things to work on. The budget was very difficult. The HOPE Scholarship was very difficult. And immigration was very difficult, so I was very disappointed that we spent as much time as we did on Sunday alcohol sales."
The other state officials in attendance agreed that the budget was a key issue for the legislature.
"Constitutionally, there's only one thing we have to do and that is to pass the budget. Everything else, we do not have to do," Rogers said.
"This year on the house side, all of the leadership said, ‘Don't do any bills if you don't have to do it.'"
Rogers says with that directive in mind, he only introduced one "noncontroversial" bill involving insurance.
Among other things, Benton defended the state's decision to renew a fuel tax break that benefits Delta Air Lines.
"I got a lot of emails on that. I want to tell you that this was done because Delta Air Lines is the largest employer in the state. They have about 27,000 people in the state of Georgia," Benton said.
"We know they bought out Northwest Airlines, which is headquartered in Minnesota. Delta Air Lines could move to Minnesota tomorrow and not pay a dime of sales tax on fuel. They could also move to Texas and not pay a dime of sales tax on jet fuel.
"So do we want to make a business decision to keep those 27,000 people in Georgia, or do we want to allow Delta Air Lines to move to another state where they won't pay those taxes? A lot of those jobs probably wouldn't transfer and they'd probably end up on unemployment, so I felt like that was a good business bill there."
Chamber President Kit Dunlap said the county's other legislators, Reps. James Mills and Doug Collins, were out of town and unable to attend the meeting.