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Jeffares: A busy legislative session has begun with tough issues ahead

The halls of the Georgia State Capitol are alive again this week as the Senate and House of Representatives gathered in their respective chambers to begin the second session of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly. It’s a very exciting time as we begin tackling the tough issues facing our state.

We are expecting this to be a shorter, more efficient session, but by no means will we have a shortage of issues. There is already a flurry of activity in both chambers with issues ranging from education reform, legalization of gambling and cultivation of medical marijuana expecting to create interesting and productive debates.

Over summer and fall, I served as a member of the HOPE Preservation Study Committee. Our goal was to investigate the various ways in which we can fund the HOPE scholarship so we can help Georgians pay for college for generations to come. During our meetings, it became apparent that additional sources of revenue are needed in order to meet the demand of college-bound students. A few options we are considering, but have not decided on, are legalization of casino gambling, horse racing and pari-mutual betting. We have conducted a lot of research on the issue and I expect bills to be brought forward sometime this session that will enable our state to continue offering this wonderful scholarship to the students who need it the most.

On Wednesday, Gov. Deal delivered the State of the State address. The annual speech outlined his agenda for the next year, which will focus heavily on improving the education system in the state of Georgia. Part of his plan was creating an executive order to establish a Teacher Advisory Committee. This Committee will oversee much of the education policies implemented in our state. Other key points made by Gov. Deal include pay raises for teachers and state employees, as well as healthcare and criminal justice reform. Next week, there will be hearings on the budget to make certain we are allocating funds appropriately.

Gov. Deal also mentioned the importance of our state’s transportation infrastructure and recently announced a $10 billion, 10-year plan to construct new lanes on several interstates, resurface damaged roads and other general infrastructure improvements in an effort to reduce congestion on our busiest roads.

Having a college degree or specialized technical training is a requirement for almost all full time jobs in Georgia. We are fortunate to have one of the best technical colleges in the state right here in Henry County. Southern Crescent Technical College, while young in age, is growing at an unprecedented rate and provides students with the opportunity to gain a post-secondary education right here at home. This week, Gov. Deal announced his plan to allocate $16.175 million in the FY 2017 General Budget to begin construction on a second phase of Southern Crescent. This achievement would not have been possible without the collaborative effort of the Henry County delegation and the city and county governments.

This session is sure to be full of exciting legislation, and I look forward to representing your interests under the Gold Dome. As always, my door is always open and I love hearing from all of my constituents. I feel honored to have earned your trust and to serve as your senator. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns during the session.

Sen. Rick Jeffares serves as Chairman of the Regulates Industries Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District which includes portions of Henry, Rockdale and Newton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.463.1376 or by email at