Legislators give insight into upcoming session at meeting

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce hosted a legislative update with Senator Dean Burke and representatives Darlene Taylor and Jay Powell Tuesday at the Potter Street Community Center.

The three legislators talked about transportation, healthcare, education and casino gambling in Georgia.

Burke said last year’s focus at the legislative session was heavy on the Transportation Funding Act, a tax on gasoline that will go toward improving the transportation infrastructure throughout the state.

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“Transportation was taken care of last year,” Taylor added. “I think the money has started coming in. It was such a blessing the price of oil went down at the same time.”

Taylor said there were projects in Southwest Georgia already on the list for repairs, but they would look at them one at time.

With transportation in the rearview mirror, all three legislators agreed education would be a major topic at the upcoming session.

Last month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed off on an education overhaul in Georgia that will reassess many factors in state education, including how the state’s education budget will be divvied among the school districts.

“Education is going to be big,” Powell said. “We may finally see a change in the funding formula that everyone has said we needed for so long.”

In healthcare, Taylor said that Southwest Georgia has very specific problems it’s faced with.

“The cost of healthcare is significantly higher here than it is in the rest of the state,” Taylor said. “We are living with it and we are trying to find a way to help a consumer balance their billing.”

Burke said the state’s Chamber of Commerce and the Hospital Association are trying to develop a Medicaid plan that would target people who’s income is too high for Medicaid but don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidiaries that lower the cost of insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“There’s a cover gap in there that means our hospital and other hospitals are taken care of for nothing,” Burke said.

Legalizing casino gambling in Georgia has also been a recent buzz topic, but Powell didn’t expect it to be a big issue this session.

Because of the election year and other matters the legislature will be attending to, Powell expected it to be a short session with the intent to get out as soon as possible. Consequently, topics like casino gambling won’t get the attention and focus they may have gotten otherwise.

“(With) something as novel as casino gambling for the state of Georgia, (I don’t think) that we are going to have enough time to devote to it,” Powell said. “Once we open that door, it is open. You can’t undo it. You can’t un-ring the bell. And I would much rather be careful about whether we want to get more into the gambling business as we already are in the state of Georgia. I really don’t see that as being a major big issue this year.”