Week Three, Ending February 1, 2019
The Georgia General Assembly returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, January 22, for the third week of the 2019 legislative session. Committee meetings started in earnest this week, some of them organizational while others are already working on significant and meaningful legislation. Despite the threat of severe winter weather socking in Atlanta, that ultimately did not materialize, and in full view of the looming Super Bowl 53 craziness happening in downtown Atlanta near the Capitol, the House continued to meet and work, as did our Committees. A forty-day session is not much time to work on legislation to get it through the committee process and to the House floor for a vote. As I have said in past newsletters, it is not easy to pass legislation in the Georgia House of Representatives, but that is in fact a good thing – except of course unless its legislation I am working on that I believe is important, then it should be easy, right – but everyone working legislation thinks the same thing.
House Rural Development Council
During the off session between 2018 and 2019, one bi-partisan committee in particular was extremely active – the House Rural Development Council (HRDC) – having traveled the state working diligently to learn what is happening, or not happening, in the vital rural areas of the state.
The House is undertaking well thought and deliberate steps to stop or slow, and then strategically reverse the growing economic pressures adversely affecting Georgia’s rural areas. Just a few of these pressures rural Georgia is facing: 1) the availability, access and cost of health care; 2) access to high speed internet, the lack of which affects the quality of education, greatly impedes health care delivery efficiencies such as tele-medicine, and 3) the lack of private sector job growth and career paths for rural area residents; many f today’s growing business sectors rely heavily on reliable, speedy access to the world of the internet to successfully grow. This is only a partial list of the broad scope of items the House Rural Development Council (HDRC) is working to help solve. Because of the importance of the work of the HDRC, I intend to discuss their work in greater detail throughout the 2019-20 bi-session.
Below are a number of links to sites that with information on data, hearings, reports, conclusion, recommendations, etc. of the HRDC’s extensive work:
HRDC Related Legislation
This week, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee held a hearing to consider two bills that came from the HRDC’s legislative recommendations, HB 22 and HB 23. HB 22 would amend the Rural Telephone Cooperative Act to allow telephone cooperatives to provide, improve or expand broadband services to our rural communities with or without the purchase of a landline. Similarly, HB 23 would allow electric membership corporations (EMCs) and their affiliates to provide broadband services. HB 23 would prohibit cross-subsidization between an EMC’s broadband service and its electric or natural gas services, and yearly audits would be conducted to ensure cross-subsidization does not take place. Additionally, HB 23 would prohibit EMCs from disconnecting broadband service if a customer fails to pay their electric or gas bills or vice versa. Admittedly, this is one of those pieces of legislation that could have unintended consequence. After the committee carefully reviewed these bills, HB 22 and HB 23 passed out of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and are now in the Rules Committee.
Consequently, if these bills are signed into law, EMCs and telephone cooperatives could apply for federal grants and loans for broadband expansion through the USDA’s Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program). In 2018, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which included $600 million in funding to establish the ReConnect Program to expand broadband service to rural areas without sufficient broadband access. The program allows non-profit entities, for-profit corporations and cooperatives to apply for a 100 percent loan or a 50 percent loan/50 percent grant option for rural communities in which 90 percent of households do not have adequate broadband access. If enacted, HB 22 and HB 23 could open the door to allow for additional, federal assistance for our rural citizens. As this session continues, I am eager to see these bills and other rural-development related measures make their way through our legislative process so that we can continue to help our rural neighbors.
Super Bowl 53
Not only was this the third week of the 2019 legislative session, but it was also “Super Bowl Week” in Atlanta. The City of Atlanta braced itself for the arrival of an estimated one million visitors for the weeks’ worth of Super Bowl festivities. The expected economic impact that the Super Bowl will have on metro Atlanta and the entire state is estimated between $198 million and $400 million. Georgia’s airports, hotels and local businesses will benefit tremendously from this year’s Super Bowl, and the state as a whole will also benefit from an increase in state and local tax dollars from tourist spending. After the most recent Super Bowl, the Twin Cities area of Minnesota saw close to $32 million in state and local tax revenues. As this year’s host state, Georgia has a unique and exciting opportunity to showcase all of the great things that our state has to offer. Here at the Capitol, we are excited to host a nationally celebrated event that will display the wonderful state that we call home.
Personal Legislative Initiatives for 2019-20
I am working on several pieces of legislation which are detailed in my 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda
Coal Ash - Both 2019-20 versions of the very important Coal Ash legislation bills have been officially dropped - HB93 and HB94. If you believe as I and a majority of Georgians do that we need to protect our ground water from the highly toxic effects of Coal Ash, then please contact your State Representatives to express your support and to urge your Representative to vote YES as HB93 and HB94 move through the process. Both of these bills have been endorsed and supported by broad, bi-partisan House support.
Oyster Mariculture - The groundbreaking legislation to grow Georgia’s Oyster Mariculture industry into a multi-million-dollar industry is close to being ready to officially file with the House of Representatives. This will be HUGE for not only coastal Georgia, but indeed the entire state. Please spread the word about Georgia Grown Oysters, visit the website, sign up and encourage other to do the same.
I will keep you updated as these bills and my other sponsored legislation move through the legislative process.
Please Contact Me
I serve you and your family here on Capitol Hill. Now that session is underway, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol. You can watch a live stream of the House proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. I can be reached via email at [email protected], or [email protected], and by phone at (404) 656-0177.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.
With kind regards,
Rep. Jeff Jones