Pike County Times
The Pike County Times, PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. Click here to donate through PayPal. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor@pikecountytimes.com
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Eggs and Issues Breakfast with the Pike County Farm Bureau
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - The Eggs and Issues Breakfast is hosted every year by Pike County Farm Bureau in Zebulon. It was held this year on May 8, 2015 and was an opportunity for members and invited guests to learn first-hand what is going on in Atlanta under the gold dome from elected state representatives. House Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. and Senator Marty Harbin were the guest speakers.

Rep. Caldwell gave his thoughts on the recently ended session beginning with the passage of the balanced budget. He said that this is the only thing required by the state constitution of elected representatives in Atlanta. The state budget is the 3rd largest ever passed in the history of the state and is $21.8 billion, up 4.7% from the previous year. He said that there are 10 million people in the state and it has grown over the past 5 or 6 years. He pointed out that $547.7 million went into education and that this budget put $1.7 million back into K-12 education.

He said that over 770 bills were introduced with less than 1/3 being passed or heard. Prison reform is ongoing with accountability in the courts and went into detail about a couple of measures that were hot topics in this legislative session.

Medical cannabis is now legal with a prescription that is not more than 5% and the possession is less than 20 ounces. He said that he hopes that will have an effect with children who need it and pointed out that those who require it must possess a certificate from the state in order to possess it. Possession is still against federal law, but he said that the federal government has indicated that it is not going to enforce the law against medical cannabis so the state of Georgia is not going to enforce this part of federal law either.

HB 170 is a bill that he voted for though he was initially against it because it hurt cities and education and only allowed SPLOST dollars to go to transportation. He said that he called county commissions, school superintendents and mayors in the largest cities and asked their opinion on it before he voted in favor it. His reasoning included 43 deficient bridges in his district with 23 in Lamar County--one of them being 93 years old--and said that he had to look at the big picture of what would happen if one bridge fell through. This bill puts a great deal of money into LMIG and still allows the county to pass local and regional SPLOSTS.

He said that there will be a Constitutional Amendment in 2016 about city and county schools that are deemed failing in 3 consequent years. Click here for info. This would allow an independent school superintendent to run the school. He said that he voted against the enabling legislation because it was too broad in that was only answerable to the governor and doesn’t answer to anyone locally. It can also fire any teacher or administrator without being accountable.

Caldwell said that he voted against the ability to buy fireworks in Georgia because he thinks that it is dangerous. His Dad was the State Fire Marshal back when it was outlawed in 1973 or 1974 and said that people need to know how many adults and particularly children lost fingers, eyes, and ears because of fireworks. He said that he also did his own safety study and wanted people to know where he stood in case they wanted to question him. Regardless, this passed and it will soon be legal to buy fireworks in Georgia.

He said that Parole and Probation were combined statewide. Many of the same people were doing the same thing so it was effective to bring it all together. He supported State Soil and Water Conservation staying intact as one agency and being placed into the Agriculture Department. He said that this was a big fight because there was an effort to split it up to begin with.

State Senator Marty Harbin rounded out the program. He gave his perspective on his first term of office as senator. He started out by saying that we the people are who are in charge, technically, but that Jefferson said that we in America do not govern by majority but by the majority that participate. Harbin said that representatives are supposed to represent the people and that he tried to do this by asking the following questions: Is it constitutional? Is it right? And he said that there were sometimes some fine lines to walk as they were doing that.

He also talked about the cannabis oil legislation that went back and forth between the House and the Senate. He said that it was something that needed to be done from a regulatory standpoint because unless it is classified right, it is still against the law. So the state passed a law to say that this is legal here, but it’s still illegal. He said that he met the family of a girl who had 30 seizures a week without cannabis oil and had only 2 a week when the cannabis oil was used for her health. He said that when the federal government fails in its responsibility to do what it’s supposed to do, the state needs to step in and do what is right.

Harbin said that he struggled with the autism bill because it’s just a good start and needs to be improved. If those with autism can get treatment early, about 50 percent of them can lead a pretty normal life without a problem or becoming dependent on the state. He struggled because the bill only applies to businesses with 11 or more employees and it is a state mandate. The problem comes in for businesses with 10 or less employees because they cannot buy the coverage because it not mandated for them. He wanted to see it applied across the board if they were going to do it and that it should not limit the people or force family members to go with a bigger company to get this coverage.

He struggled with the opportunity school district issue as well because it means larger and bigger government. He wanted to see vouchers as an option and that would not even be considered. 120 schools have failed and none of these are in his district though many are in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Columbus. He said the people will have the opportunity to vote on this but need to understand what we are voting on because this will be amending the Constitution to give too much power to governors when it comes to our schools. He said that he thinks that we need to vote this down. Harbin said that voters need to examine this legislation and ask whether we want to give governors this much power and basically appoint an education czar that is basically going to run these schools. His biggest question was how do you give back a school that has been taken away?

As far as fireworks go, he thinks that the 5% tax on them is probably the reason that this was passed.

He said that he struggled with and ended up voting against the Transportation bill. (HB 170 linked above.) He said that in driving back and forth to Atlanta for 40 days, he experienced transportation problems every single day. However, he said that some of these problems are not going to be solved with just money. Money won’t solve the problem of so many state and federal government offices being located in Atlanta and all of these roads running straight through Atlanta; only decentralization will help with that. He also said that the Senate tried to have a constitutional amendment to capture money from the excess revenues in Georgia through March (these revenues were up by 6%) and dedicate it to roads and bridges and not rail, but they couldn’t get commitments. Georgia’s budget is about $40 or $41.5 billion with about $20 billion of that coming from the federal government. He said that without specifying that extra money be spent in a particular place before it hits the coffers, it will be spent somewhere for something else. There are other taxes built into this Transportation bill. As far as the Delta part of this bill went, he said that they were averaging about 600 emails a day from Delta. He said that he did not think that this is going to hurt them though because the Delta credit that they lost was worth about $24 million and the CEO of Delta made about $14.4 million. There is a hotel tax written into the bill. It went from the Senate to the House as rental cars and came back as hotels so there were some people who were surprised by that. He said that Mercedes Benz leases their cars to their employees and wanted a credit for the tax that they would be paying for this so they ended up getting this incentive. Harbin said that if there is going to be a corporate tax for something, it needs to be on an equal basis without the state picking winners and losers.

Harbin said that his first experience as a Senator is different than going in without being an elected representative and that he learned a great deal in the Georgia Senate. He told the audience that he is a conservative and believes that he ought to spend our (taxpayer) money like he spends his (personal) money and that he believes we ought to hold government accountable and responsible for how they spend that money. He pointed out that he is only one voice out of 56, but that his goal is to respond to the people regardless of what he is told in Atlanta. Harbin said that he was told that this is the governor’s bill and you have to vote for it. His response was that the governor didn’t elect me and the people did and the people spoke out on particular legislation through emails, etc. He said that it is not just the job of the people to vote. It is the job of the people to let him know, to let Johnnie know and to let the Governor know where we stand on issues because the government needs to work for and serve the people.

In closing, he said thank you for opportunity to serve us as Senator. He said that it has been an honor and a privilege to serve and said that while he has made some mistakes; he is learning as he goes along and trying to help as best that he can. He said that sometimes people get lost in government and said that he may not know how to help to begin with, but he will work to make sure that people get the help that they need.

Jon Huffmaster, Legislative Director for Georgia Farm Bureau, gave the closing remarks at the meeting. He said that you hear in the press all of the time that it’s a bunch of crooks serving in the General Assembly and that they are trying to do all this bad stuff, but that is not the case. He said that he has worked with a lot of legislators and that he has never met anybody—even when they disagreed on an issue—that was trying to do something bad. We may think sometimes that they are doing something bad, but they think that they are trying to do the right thing and work for their constituents. He said that the Georgia General Assembly has done a great job on handling the financial situation over the past several years and making it not as bad as it could have been—even though we are still not back to where we were in 2007. He said that he appreciates their efforts in the state and that of federal reps too and the work that they do with Farm Bureau.

Read about last year’s Eggs & Issues Breakfast by clicking here.