Five of Newton County’s state-level representatives stopped by for the first-ever Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Breakfast sponsored by AT&T Wednesday morning to discuss their priorities for the upcoming legislative session and answer local questions.
In attendance was Pamela Dickerson, state representative for District 113, Andrew Welch, state representative for District 110, Dave Belton, state representative for District 112, Rick Jeffares, state senator for District 17 and Tonya Anderson, state senator-elect for District 43.
One of the topics discussed was the possibility of gambling and para-mutual betting — such as horse racing — legislation coming up during the upcoming session.
Jeffares said the decision on gambling in the state would be required to come up on a ballot and go for a vote. He said the main push for the legislation is coming from the MGM company.
“We have to make the decision, really, if we allow y’all the right to vote on whether to allow gambling,” he said.
Welch said he was not a proponent of gambling, but agrees that an honest discussion about the topic.
“If I was a betting man I would think that it will get some level of scrutiny in the committee process in either chamber,” Welch said. “I wouldn’t anticipate it getting the four votes maybe this year, but I’m sure it’ll get vetted.”
The representatives also breached the topic of Georgia’s “religious liberty” bill, which was vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal earlier this year.
House Bill 757 would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Dickerson said the bill had a “devastating” effect on the community and she does not believe it will pass if it comes up again.
“I would not like to see that bill pass,” she said.
Anderson said it will be her goal to help protect the state’s reputation as a welcoming place.
Other topics discussed by the representatives included:
• Welch said the state will have a very big focus on education now that the Opportunity School District Amendment was voted down in the election. He said there are more than 80 schools that have been listed as chronically failing. “These are children that we are — as a state — leaving behind,” he said. “We cannot leave these children behind.”
• Welch said the Civil Asset Forfeiture Returns standards have been raised in the state to a “clear and convincing” standard.
• Belton expressed the importance of early detection for autism in children. There are efforts to address how autism is continually handled in state schools, including post-graduation care, Welch said.