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Transportation, education and cannabis oil likely big topics again next legislative session
State lawmakers discuss issues at annual breakfast
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle speaks at the Gainesville Civic Center Thursday morning during the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce 2015 Eggs & Issues Breakfast.

State lawmakers from Hall County said they expect to pick up where they left off last year when they convene in January for the 2016 session of the General Assembly.

This includes considering changes to the funding formula for transportation projects, more debate over whether to allow the in-state cultivation of medical cannabis oil and building on plans to reform public schools and boost the technical college system.

The priorities were discussed at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs & Issues breakfast held Thursday morning at the Gainesville Civic Center.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who calls Hall County home, also spotlighted proposals to shift how the state generates its tax revenue.

State Republicans have rallied around calls to lower personal income taxes and offset that lost revenue with increases in the sales tax.

But Cagle said certain investments must still be made.

“No one gets where they are alone,” he added.

Georgia is the third fastest growing state in the nation, which means school enrollment is growing.

Cagle said he is committed to improving Georgia’s schools, though federal mandates that place “compliance over achievement” can get in the way.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said education is “paramount to the future of Georgia” and goes hand in hand with economic development as part of the state’s long-range funding plans.

“The economy and the demands are changing,” he added.

Lawmakers have made enticing tax benefits and promises of educational support part of the state’s offer to businesses looking to relocate.

With this in mind, Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said additional funding for education should include new scholarships, especially for technical college students, to ensure a pipeline between schools and the workforce.

The biggest ticket item from the 2015 session was undoubtedly the $900 million transportation bill that set gas taxes at 26 cents per gallon and created a $200 fee on electric vehicles and a $5 per night fee on hotel and motel stays.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has long indicated that some of these funding items could be changed or scrapped, and he and other lawmakers hit upon that likelihood again Thursday.

The hotel tax, for example, has proven controversial because it hits low-income families hardest.

Meanwhile, a state commission has rejected calls to support the regulation of in-state cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis oil.

Lawmakers last spring approved the use of cannabis oil to treat eight medical conditions.

Miller, a member of the commission, said he doesn’t want to unintentionally create a pathway that would increase recreational use of marijuana.

But he’s also said he expects the debate to continue throughout the legislative session.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said other health care issues need addressing, including, for example, increased mental health, indigent and disability funding.

“There are other challenges in other areas,” Hawkins added.

And that’s a sentiment that makes for a good preview of what’s to come in 2016.