The Georgia House of Representatives will convene for the second year of the 155th Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly Jan. 13. After adjourning the 2019 session, my colleagues and I spent much of our time working in House study committees to explore legislative solutions to various issues ahead of the 2020 session.

State Budget

As always, balancing the state’s $27.5 billion budget will be our top legislative priority and is required by our state constitution. While Georgia’s economy remains strong, most state agencies and departments have made, or are making, budget cuts implemented by Governor Brian Kemp in August 2019 due to reduced revenue collections.

In 2018, Georgia taxpayers saw a decrease in income tax rates, which went from 6% to 5.75%, and also a number of tax credits and exemptions to corporate interests like the television and film industry to entice them to do business in Georgia. Beginning this year, we lowered sales tax on motor vehicles from 7% to 6.6%. These, and the multi-billion-dollar destruction from Hurricane Michael, have created these revenue shortfalls.

In response to these needs, Speaker David Ralston created the House Special Committee on Economic Growth to hear input on new industries that would generate revenue so our state budget can grow alongside our state’s spending needs without raising taxes.

Gambling - The Citizens Vote

During the 2020 legislative session, we will explore opportunities to expand our state’s gambling industry. Through the work of the House Special Committee on Economic Growth, my colleagues and I have learned about the potential benefits and downfalls of bringing new gambling opportunities, such as horse racing, sports betting and destination casino resorts, to Georgia. Expanding this industry could create thousands of jobs across the state and generate a sizable amount of taxable revenue to assist more Georgians with the rising costs of healthcare and to support our state’s HOPE scholarship program.

Legislation would be needed to set forth guidelines to regulate this potential industry, as well as an accompanying constitutional amendment. If legislation is passed during the upcoming session to expand the industry, the constitutional amendment would allow Georgia citizens to ultimately decide for themselves if expanding this industry is best for their families, communities and state.

Healthcare

In 2020, healthcare appropriations and legislation will present a wide range of issues, which will include the high cost of prescription drugs and issues dealing with rural healthcare. More than 500,000 Georgians are currently without insurance, and we will focus on reasonable solutions.

In 2019, Governor Kemp also began exploring innovative solutions to the state’s Affordable Care Act programs, and two Medicaid waiver requests were developed. One would allow more low-income Georgians to be eligible for Medicaid, and the other request would establish a “reinsurance” plan, as well as create a more consumer-friendly online enrollment process. These waivers have been submitted to the federal government for consideration.

Rural Development

The House Rural Development Council, passed several bills that provide solutions to support the citizens and businesses of rural Georgia. These recommendations support our agriculture industry, expand funding for rural broadband deployment and address mapping issues that currently overestimate the amount of broadband coverage across the state, as well as providing better access to healthcare by creating tax incentives for rural physicians and developing a state-funded residency program to bring healthcare workers to our rural communities.

Public Safety

We will likely see more bills to prevent gang violence and human trafficking. There have been numerous bills introduced by Democratic members of the Legislature that deal with gun control. Most of these are patently unconstitutional and unworkable, disregarding due process of law, the most basic of all freedoms. We will continue to look at logical solutions, while protecting your constitutional rights.

Environmental Issues

Two of my counties have permitted to allow wood-fired power generation, which has recently created numerous concerns. The two main issues are noise nuisance and ash pollution generated by the routine operation of the business. There are remedies to deal with both. When the counties approved these facilities, I don’t believe anyone was aware that creosote-treated wood (i.e. railroad ties) would be used as the main fuel generation source at these facilities. We will be working with the Environmental Protection Department to address these issues for the safety and well-being of the people in these districts.

We will also address issues dealing with election security, education and a multitude of general legislation.

I am honored to serve you and, as always, appreciate your thoughts and interest. Please feel free to contact me. I can be reached by phone at 404-656-0276 (Legislative Office) or 706-206-6500 (Cell), or via email at alan.powell@house.ga.gove or alanpowell23@hotmail.com.

Alan Powell is the District 32 representative in the Georgia House of Representatives.

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