My colleagues and I just wrapped up hearings focused around Governor Brian Kemp's proposed budget cuts and other issues to be considered during the 2020 Legislative Session. And, as we debate the governor's recommendations on the House floor this week, there is no doubt that rural Georgians will be the hardest hit.
Governor Kemp has proposed reductions in key areas, including health care initiatives, agriculture programs, public safety and others. This comes at a time when we are still trying to address a shortage of health care workers in rural Georgia, find ways to support our vital farming community and fight gang violence across the state.
The governor's budget plan would reduce funding for county health departments by $6.4 million this year and $9.24 million next year. Two big-ticket items under fire are loan forgiveness programs for rural health care professionals and funding for county health departments.
The governor's proposal would also eliminate funding for certain forest protection programs, and filling a vacancy for an additional food safety inspector and several agriculture marketing positions, and some important agricultural experiment stations. We will see how things play out over the next several weeks as the Legislative process moves forward.
There will be unwelcome cuts to law enforcement budgets across the state, at a time when we need more public safety resources, not less. According to a recently released Gang Threat Assessment report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, there were more than 71,000 gang members and more than 1,500 suspected gangs in Georgia in 2018. Georgia is in a state of crisis, caused by violent criminal street gangs, whose members threaten, terrorize and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods. And if you think gang-related violence is just a "big city" problem, you are dead wrong.
My 10-year-old grandson was not in class on Monday. He was not sick. It wasn't a holiday. Classes were canceled as a precautionary measure while law enforcement officers from across the state searched the area for an at-large murder suspect. My special thanks to the Hart County Sheriff's Office and other personnel for bringing this to swift closure with an arrest and no additional casualties. This incident is still under investigation but appears to be connected to gang-related activities.
It is the intent of the General Assembly to seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs by focusing on the criminal gang activity and the organized nature of these gangs, which together are the chief source of terror they create.
Locally, as I made my way back to Atlanta on Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing many local friends at a well-attended public hearing in Carnesville. Two of my counties, Franklin and Madison, permitted to allow the operation of wood-fired power generation facilities, which have recently come under intense scrutiny for pollution issues. These two businesses applied for permits in 2015. It is abundantly clear to me that, at the start of the permitting process, all local parties believed these plants would burn timber from forestry waste as a fuel source for their operations. No one was ever informed that creosote-laced timber, or any other carcinogenic product, would be burned.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency legalized the burning of creosote under certain conditions in 2016. Afterward the Georgia Environmental Protection Division adopted the federal rules, there were no plants in Georgia burning creosote. These facilities set up shop under these guidelines and continue to operate under the start-up permitting they obtained, and they are the only two in Georgia that burn creosote-treated lumber.
After numerous local complaints, EPD has both plants on the "high alert" list. They are scrutinizing the operations for several issues, from water-runoff contamination to air quality violations. Representative Tom McCall and I have met with EPD, and we are looking at several actions to give local government and citizens better control over these operations. We live in one of the cleanest and most beautiful parts of the country, and we need to continue protecting it.
I am honored to serve you and, as always, appreciate your thoughts and interest. Please feel free to contact me via phone at 404-656-0276 (Legislative Office) or 706- 206-6500 (Cell) or email at or email@example.com.
Alan Powell represents District 32 in the Georgia House of Representatives.