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Newton legislators will help craft education, public safety legislation

ATLANTA — Georgia House of Representatives members representing Newton County could play key roles in crafting legislation on issues ranging from education and public safety to the creative arts.

House Speaker David Ralston released his committee assignments and officers for the 2021-2022 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 20.  

District 112 State Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, will serve as secretary of the Education Committee and return as chairman of the Special Rules committee after serving in the same position in the 2019-2020 session.

Special Rules deals with legislation on establishment of study committees, among other issues.

Belton, who is serving his fourth term, also will be a member of five other committees, including Public Safety Appropriations; Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications; Creative Arts & Entertainment; Economic Development and Tourism; and Interstate Cooperation.

Committee assignments for the other three Newton delegation members, who are all serving their inaugural terms, include:

• District 110 State Rep. Clint Crowe, R-Jackson, will serve as a member of Public Safety & Homeland Security; State Planning & Community Affairs; and Banks & Banking committees.

• District 113 State Rep. Sharon Henderson, D-Covington, was named as a member of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight; Retirement; and Game, Fish & Parks committees.

• District 109 State Rep. Regina Lewis-Ward, D-McDonough, was appointed as a member of the Agriculture & Consumer Affairs; Banks & Banking; and Interstate Cooperation committees.

Belton, who is a Delta Airlines pilot and Air Force veteran, said he is working to gain approval for a number of bills that will pass through his committees, including two education-related bills.

One is a teacher tax credit that would “encourage teachers to teach at very rural or poorly performing schools,” he said. 

The House passed the measure unanimously last year but the Senate did not consider it amid the chaotic work around completing the 2020 session due to COVID, Belton said.

“As workforce development is the No. 1 challenge to our community, education is the best way to tackle that problem,” he said. “The teacher pipeline is decreasing drastically, while the number of our children in Georgia is at record levels.”

The tax credit would apply to teachers at about 325 possible schools — of which the state Department of Education would select 100 of the most needy and local school boards would select the teacher they most need. 

That teacher would receive $3,000 a year for a maximum of five years maximum for a total of $15,000, he said.

Belton said he also is working on a bill to encourage retired teachers in high-need subjects to return to work.

Henderson, a minister and retired banker, is the only Newton County resident in the delegation. 

She said she had “a vast array of experience in all of these categories assigned.”

“I look forward to monitoring, reviewing and evaluating legislation for Newton County,” Henderson said.

She noted she worked in banking for 30 years and looked forward to using the experience on the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee.

In addition, she said she hopes to use her time on the Game, Fish & Parks Committee to encourage development of a park for special needs children in Newton County.

Crowe, who owns a real estate agency and is a former police officer, said he was grateful to Ralston and others for his committee assignments.

“I believe my professional experience and education will allow me to add to the discussion regarding matters that come before us,” he said.

Lewis-Ward’s lengthy experience includes working as a manager for the New York City Transit Authority and serving as a Stockbridge City Council member. 

“It is an honor to be selected to serve on these three committees,” Lewis-Ward said. 

“From engaging in Georgia’s largest economic industry to overseeing statewide financial institutions and maintaining state relationships, I am sure that my work with the other committee members will enrich the lives of the people of Georgia,” she said.