Middle Georgia lawmakers preview key issues in 2016 General Assembly

ATLANTA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The first day of the 2016 General Assembly didn’t have many agenda items, but lawmaker were still hard at work preparing for the rest of the session.

For some, it’s the first time taking their seat in the House Chambers.

“I’m still kind of learning my way around for the most part. Still trying to figure out where the bathrooms are,” said State Representative Shaw Blackmon.

For others, it’s the time to get as much support as possible to push legislation through this session.

“This is called working the bill. This is what we do. Get signatures on the bill,” said State Representative Allen Peake while holding House Bill 722 full of signatures from other house members in his hand.

Middle Georgia Senators and Representatives said some of the big issues they’re expecting to hear about this session are medical marijuana, casino gambling and teacher merit pay.

Peake received closed to 90 signatures on HB 722 Monday. He said he needs 91 votes to pass the bill in the House.

“This is pretty significant. When you’ve got almost half the chamber supporting the bill initially, it bodes well that this is something that our chamber believes we need to move forward,” said Peake.

He pre-filed the bill last week. It proposes a model for growing marijuana in Georgia. Last legislative session, House Bill 1 created Georgia’s medical marijuana law which allows people with certain medical conditions to legally possess cannabis oil. However, since it’s not grown in Georgia, some patients are traveling out of state to get the drug and bring it back, which is illegal. Although Governor Nathan Deal and law enforcement officers have said they don’t support an in-state growth model, Peake is confident he can address their concerns.

A resolution from the 2015 General Assembly proposing casino gambling in the state is expected to return for discussion this session. House Resolution 807 aims to put a limited number of casino gambling resorts in the state. It also suggests putting the money from licensing, taxation and regulation of these resorts toward education. State Representative Rusty Kidd wants to put that money toward rural hospitals instead.

Other Middle Georgia Representatives are focused on changing the way rural schools get money.

“If they raise one mil in the metro area, it will bring in one million dollars a month for the school system. We raine one mil in rural Georgia and we bring in $30,000 a month,” said State Representative Jimmy Pruett.

Senators and Representatives are expecting Governor Nathan Deal to support a form of teacher merit pay this session. The Education Reform Commission made recommendations to the governor to change the way the education system is funded. One idea is to have local districts set their own pay scales rather than using a statewide system. A group of Georgia teachers called TRAGIC has said they don’t want to be paid based on how well their students perform on a test. The report also suggests giving more money to small schools. As of Monday, no education reform bill has been introduced.

“I’ve heard talk about the draft and some certain things like I’ve just discussed that will be in the bill,” said Pruett.

Blackmon, a first time representative, plans to read up on these issues to make the best decision for Houston County.

“I’ll be looking opportunistically for things that are going to be important for 146. Education is on the forefront there. I think anything to do with our defense communities, we have Robins Air Force Base there locally, and also, jobs are very important,” explained Blackmon.

Blackmon wasn’t one of the signatures Peake received Monday. Blackmon said he needs to read the bill first.

Governor Nathan Deal will give his State of the State address Wednesday at 11 a.m. in House Chambers.

Categories: Local News

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