Bulloch County legistlative delegation members outlined challenges facing Georgia lawmakers in the upcoming General Assembly during a weekly meeting of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club Thursday.
State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, along with state Reps. Jon Burns, R-Newington, and Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, spoke briefly during a legislative forum hosted by the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce Government Operations Committee at the Kiwanis-Ogeechee Fairgrounds.
Each of the lawmakers was asked a single question pertaining to their respective state-level committees, as they prepare for 2013.
Forum moderator Rachel Edwards, the chairwoman for the chamber, led off the program by asking Hill to address some of Georgia’s challenges and opportunities moving forward.
Hill serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Revenues and the budget seem to be the subject I spend the most time talking about, because both our challenges and opportunities lie in that area,” he said. “Due to the economic situation, we barely made budget in the previous fiscal year, and, unfortunately, are a little under budget right now, in this fiscal year. In line with that, the governor has required 3 percent cuts to be proposed for most agencies in the state.
“One of the primary challenges that we will have this session is: trying to decide which cuts are the least harmful, and finding ways to provide for people without cutting needed public programs,” he said.
Despite the financial struggles, Hill is optimistic about the state’s future and said signs of progress can be seen now.
“On the positive side, we have had a good year in job growth throughout the state. Today, the unemployment rate is exactly 1 percent less than what it was a year ago,” he said. “The trend lines are looking much better. I think the prospects for prosperity for Georgia and our part of the state are really bright.”
Parrish, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Health Subcommittee for Appropriations, was asked to describe the issues presented by increasingly expensive health-care programs.
“Things are going to be tough, and it’s going to be tight,” Parrish said. “As we move forward, the biggest challenges we will face deal with the cost of health care.”
Parrish said the Affordable Care Act, if enacted in Georgia, would provide health care to about 620,000 additional low-income residents. He is concerned about finding funds, at state and federal levels, to pay for the program.
“I think a good argument can be made by both sides regarding the Affordable Care Act, but what really concerns me is: I do not see how the federal government is going to be able to pay 100 percent of costs related to expansion of the program in the first three years and 90 percent thereafter,” Parrish said. “I am just not sure that the money is there. And, if you don’t have the money, you can’t spend it.”
Burns, the chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee, highlighted recent accomplishments of that committee— including “Taylor’s Law,” which grants special hunting privileges to young people facing a terminal illness, and legislation that allows South Georgia hunters to hunt over feed.
In the forthcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly, he expects legislators to review DUI policies regarding boating.
“Right now, the level for DUI conviction if you’re driving a vehicle on land is a (0.08 percent) blood-alcohol content; on the water, driving a boat, it is (0.1 percent),” Burns said. “I think we will see legislation that makes those two numbers the same across the board (by lowering the number for boaters). I think that is one thing we will get done.”
The 2013 Georgia General Assembly will convene Jan. 14.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.