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Legislators brief local business leaders as General Assembly session approaches

COVINGTON, Ga. – Property tax reform, the budget, criminal justice reform and finding the best way for Georgians to cast and count ballots are just some of the things legislators plan to take up when they gather under the Gold Dome early next year, according to four of the legislators who represent Newton County.

With a little over a month remaining until the Georgia General Assembly convenes, state Sens. Tonya Anderson and Brian Strickland along with state Reps. Dave Belton and Andrew Welch joined local business leaders for breakfast Thursday morning at the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce for the chamber’s annual pre-legislative breakfast.

Welch predicted there will be a change in the state’s budget direction next year.

“I think there is going to be a significant change in our budgetary direction,” he said. “Governor-elect Kemp’s promise of pay increases for teachers across the board, so I think that will be a budgetary item that we have to look into.”

Welch also said property tax reform will be looked at.

”We’re looking at the assessment process, local government’s assessment process and how taxes are levied and what rights the property taxpayers have to challenge those and is that process effective.”

Anderson, a member of the MARTA oversight committee, said the legislature will be working on transportation issues during the next session. She also said legislators may be challenged balancing Georgia’s next budget and voiced support for small business tax breaks.

“To have that balanced budget, we may have to move some things around to get to where we need to be,” she said. “But one of the things we pride ourselves on is tax breaks for our small businesses.”

Anderson also talked about her support for HB 765, C.J.’s Law, a bill strengthening penalties for hit and run accidents that result in death or serious injury. She said bipartisan collaboration is key to accomplishing things for Georgians.

“There is more bipartisan collaboration probably now than in the history of Georgia so expect us to do continued great work.”

Belton touted Georgia’s position as the number one state in which to do business and the state’s booming economy. He said he thinks a focus of the 2019 general assembly will be healthcare and rural development.

“I think the focus is going to be healthcare this year. We’re going to work more with rural development,” he said. “Economic development is going to be big.

“It’s hard to believe that Georgia, for the sixth time in a row, is the number one state in the nation to do business. No state has won it four times in a row. We’ve won it six times. Things are great in Georgia economically.”

Strickland said criminal justice reform is already paying dividends for Georgia. He credited bi-partisan cooperation with making it happen.

“In 2011, our prisons were operating at 170 percent of capacity, so we were obviously over capacity. We had the fourth highest in the nation of people incarcerated,” he said. “But from 2009 on until 2017, we actually saw an 18.6 percent drop in those going to prison.”

“We also saw from 2008 to 2016, a 24 percent decrease in crime in our state. These are real numbers and real results. This is a result of what happens when Republicans and Democrats put aside party and actually work together on change we can agree on.”

How Georgians vote will also come up when the legislators gather next month. 

“Obviously, we will have to deal with the question of the voting machines and what kind of election process will we have in terms of the machines,” Welch said.

The 2019 session of the Georgia General Assembly convenes Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.