The citizens of Jefferson County shared a meal and spoke face-to-face with three of their representatives on Friday, December 3 at the 22nd Annual Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.
Senator Max Burns, Representative Mack Jackson and Representative Brian Prince spoke about the issues they believe are most pressing and expect to be resolved in the next legislative session. U.S. Representative Jody Hice and Senator Raphael Warnock were both in Washington at the event but sent recorded messages to citizens of Jefferson County.
Burns, Jackson and Prince have each said their fellow representatives are talking about crime and public safety, especially after an incident in the last session when a fellow lawmaker had a health incident at their joint hotel in Atlanta and during that he was being treated by EMS, the ambulance was stolen.
Burns called it the number one problem on the table.
“We have to fix the problem. We must support the police, ”he said. “Last year, we did things to make sure communities couldn’t fund law enforcement indiscriminately. This law was passed to ensure that they could not reduce law enforcement by more than five percent unless there was a really serious economic challenge. ”
The three lawmakers also referred to the 2020 census and the recent redistribution that resulted from it.
Jefferson County has grown from the 10th Congressional District, represented by Jody Hice, to the 12th Congressional District, represented by Rick Allen.
“It was a necessary requirement because of the growth of our state,” Burns said. “We added over a million people and narrowly missed adding an additional member of Congress.”
Jefferson County will also lose Representative Mack Jackson (Dist. 128), and where Senator Prince (Dist. 127) once represented only the northern end of the county, will now serve all of Jefferson County.
Jackson said he would miss his regular visits to Jefferson County, but would continue to serve its citizens indirectly.
Prince said he was part of the redistribution meetings where the district lines were redesigned.
“It was revealing to be able to see how it was done and it’s not easy, it’s not easy work,” he said.
In addition to answering questions from the floor, the candidates all took the time to discuss the issues that they believe will be most pressing going forward this year.
Burns said he was happy to see the expansion of US Highway 1 across the county, but that his next dream project would be to find a way to extend Highway 17 from Wrens to Thomson. He said he was working to encourage the Department of Transportation to prioritize this project.
“We have a problem with growth and opportunities and we have challenges with education. The budget is going to be the key, it’s always the key, ”Burns said.
He pointed to SB 202, his original bill, which he said started on two pages and ended up being around 100.
“You can agree or disagree with this, but I suggest that it ensures that every legal vote counts,” he said.
He said the government still had not fully funded education to the level it was doing before COVID and viewed education as the answer to many of the state’s problems.
The pandemic continues to be a concern and he warned everyone present that the threat is promising.
“I want you to understand that COVID is real,” he said. “He hasn’t disappeared. It is to hide. I am double vaxed and boosted, as they say. I encourage you to consider this.
Representative Jackson spoke of the success of rural hospitals, like the one in Jefferson County, with the Rural Hospital Tax Credit program.
“It is essential for rural communities,” he said. “This year, the entire $ 60 million was fully consumed by mid-September. Georgians are interested in investing and helping our hospital and our communities to survive. ”
In 2022, lawmakers will consider increasing the annual cap from $ 60 million to $ 100 million and extending the program beyond 2024.
Jackson also sits on the House Rural Development Council, which was set up by the Speaker of the House to deal with issues that have a particular impact on rural Georgia.
“This year we gave scholarships to truck drivers,” Jackson said. “Trucking is very important in this area. Hope we can give more this year. Even though agriculture is our number one engine, we simply cannot cross the state without our truckers. Our ports are blocked and there is cargo out there in the ocean and we have to move it. ”
Rural broadband remains one of the biggest issues facing rural Georgia, he said.
“We knew there was a need, but the pandemic really highlighted the need for rural broadband,” Jackson said. “When you talk about telemedicine, virtual learning, even government departments need broadband to get the word out when they shut down the service due to the pandemic. ”
Local electricity membership co-ops and individual businesses strive to provide these services and Jackson said the legislature will look for ways to support them as they do.
Prince said he looks forward to serving all of Jefferson County.
He talked about getting $ 1 million in seed money to start a veterans cemetery in Augusta that will serve the entire country. He also sits on a special committee responsible for recent spikes in construction costs.
US Congressmen Hice and Warnock sent recorded messages to meeting attendees.
“There are a lot of exciting things going on (in Jefferson County) and I commend each of you for your role in this,” Hice said. “Here in Washington, we also have a lot of spinning plates. Everything from immunization warrants to out-of-control spending … we’ll do everything we can to help you thrive in your businesses and community, and to keep Georgia the number one state in the country in which to do business.
Warnock has spoken of working across the aisle to help push through the bipartisan infrastructure package.
“America needs a home improvement project to help fix our communities, strengthen our economies and bridge our divisions,” Warnock said. “After a lot of hard work, we have done this for the people of Georgia. From sending federal funds for our state roads, bridges and public transportation systems, to increasing federal support for Georgia’s ports and waterways, expanding rural broadband access. Support clean energy jobs and more. These investments will be beneficial for Georgians. Create jobs and help stimulate the economy of rural Georgia and Jefferson County.