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Belton: Best bills move forward during lull
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This week was very slow at the Capitol as the Senate and House start to look at each other’s bills. This is fairly typical, and in most cases, makes sure that only the best bills get done.

A really welcome move by the Speaker of the House was the creation of a new House Rural Development Council. Like my Military Affairs committee, this group will travel through rural Georgia this summer to see what can be done to improve “the loss of population, deficiency in access to health care, poor infrastructure, diminished quality of educational opportunity, scarcity of employment opportunities, and overall lack of growth.” It is a fact that all throughout this great nation people are moving from the farms to the cities in unprecedented numbers. It’s hard to believe, but most rural counties in Georgia have less citizens now than before WWII, while Atlanta has increased seven-fold (from 800,000 to 5.7 million). Less than 1 percent of Americans now create the food you eat – as well as the “raw material” of the largest economic engine of Georgia…and of the nation: Agriculture. Indeed, one of the reasons Georgia suffered much less than most other states during the past Recession is our abundant Agriculture industry, which keeps the port of Savannah busy with all the produce that is being shipped abroad (mostly to China). Just like my efforts to protect our military, it is incumbent that Georgia protects our number one industry and the people who support it.

Relating to that effort, my Military Affairs committee studied how Georgia is protecting our military by creating Agricultural and Forestry and Conservation easements to prevent Encroachment of our bases. It seems an unlikely relationship, but many bases have been closed in the past because the local community built too many structures too close to the base, creating noise and security problems. By incentivizing arable and timber land around military installations, this shields them from Encroachment and possible closure. There are also environmental and conservancy benefits, including providing endangered species natural habitats to live in, as well as protecting clean water sources. The major areas Georgia has invested in so far are the Townsend Bombing range between Moody Air Force base and Fort Stewart, the massive maneuver areas around Fort Benning and Fort Stewart itself, and the runway apron near Robins AFB. To date, Georgia has protected some 137,000 acres for our military, and plan to add another 40,000 acres in the coming years. However, Florida has protected a whopping 718,000  acres and North Carolina has spent over $1B in 1400 projects to do the same. Obviously, Georgia needs to be aware of these very competitive procurements of our military-rival states. Fortunately, a Senate Bill passed the House this year that will increase our efforts in this arena.

My school transparency bill passed the Senate Education Committee this week by another unanimous vote. I was also very pleased to host the House Economic and Agricultural Committees to visit our new Safari Park, our new Farmers Market, and several old homes. I also visited Shire, where they are starting to create their pharmaceutical product that will help burn victims and rare protein deficiency-related diseases. This $1B facility encompassing over one million square feet will eventually employ over 1500 people.  

I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve you under the Golden Dome. You can contact me at 706-372-4114 or