Lawmakers discuss upcoming legislative session at Grits and issues

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  • Sheila McNeill
    US Republican Party politician from Georgia, from 2021 member of the Georgia State Senate for District 3

Dec. 4—Hundreds gathered at the Jekyll Island Convention Center Friday for the annual Grits and Issues breakfast.

Officials representing the Golden Isles in Atlanta attended to explain their plans for the upcoming legislative session in January.

The event's first speaker was Brunswick Mayor-elect Cosby Johnson, who talked about the importance of building consensus with local and state officials.

Funding for technical schools is an important component to educating local youth, he said.

"We have to find ways to invest in ourselves," he said. "We have to find a way to build the small things. We need a clear and definable pipeline in our technical schools."

Workforce development should begin at the cradle and go to 12th grade and beyond, he said. He said communities create a path to prosperity and help change the world.

"Without you at the table, this is a bunch of pretty words," he said.

State Sen. Sheila McNeill, R-Brunswick, and Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend, were unable to attend the meeting. District 20 Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, attended on McNeill's behalf.

Walker predicted Johnson will do "an outstanding job" when he takes office in January. He said the new Census results show rural Georgia continues to lose population, with the bulk of the state's growth during the past decade in the Atlanta area.

"Workforce development in rural Georgia is a priority for Gov. (Brian) Kemp," he said. "Workforce development is a big challenge. It's an impediment to rural Georgia."

Walker said it's important to engage students in middle and high schools.

"Sen. McNeill will work hard to champion in this area," he said.

Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, showed maps of the new proposed state voting district lines.

"This was a monumental task," he said. "I think we've got some good maps."

Walker said the goal with redistricting was to keep communities of interest together.

"We wanted to keep counties intact," he said. "We feel good about the Senate lines we drew."

Hogan acknowledged this is his final term in office after a long career as an elected official.

"It has been a pleasure serving this community," he said.

Hogan recognized Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey, who is leaving office at the end of the month after serving two terms as mayor and two terms as city commissioner.

"I think Brunswick is on the move and I think Cornell had a lot to do with it," he said.

The audience stood and gave Harvey a standing ovation.

Rep. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine, also spoke at the event. If the new voting district lines are approved, Sainz's district will include all of Camden County and a portion of South Glynn County, including Jekyll Island.

He said the change in his district boundaries, which currently stretch from downtown St. Marys to Waycross, will change his approach as an elected official.

"It will be easier to go to Jekyll Island than to Waycross," he said. "Camden County has a lot more in common with Glynn County than Waycross."

He said it's important for the region to have a voice in state government and expressed concerns about the population losses in rural Georgia. It's important to find ways to revitalize industry in rural counties, he said.

"We need to find ways to bring folks here and keep folks here," he said. "Rural Georgia is losing its voice because of population change."

The pandemic showed the importance of broadband in rural Georgia and the state is prepared to invest $300 million to upgrade the internet service.

"It's a high priority for the Senate and the House," he said.

It's also likely there will be some discussion about repealing the state income tax in the upcoming session.

Hogan said he'd support "doing away with the state tax altogether."

Walker said a fair tax based on consumption of goods and service is "something worthy of debate, discussion."

Walker also supports eliminating state tax on military pensions.

"We want to keep them in Georgia working," he said. "Sheila McNeill has hit the ground running. She's done an excellent job building relationships that she can leverage going forward."

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