Category Archives: Technology

Budget, Broadband and Bettering Georgia’s Law Enforcement

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

During week six under the Gold Dome, we crossed the halfway mark for this legislative session. We passed 20 bills on the Senate Floor this week and our workload continues to grow as we near Crossover Day, now just six legislative days away.

Our most important accomplishment of the week was passing HB 683, the Amended Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) Budget. This year’s amended total budget is around $25.3 billion and includes $306 million in new spending initiatives. The budget passed our chamber with some minor changes and it will likely be sent to conference committee where both chambers will debate and compromise to achieve an agreement that can be sent to the governor.

Over the interim, I was honored to serve as a member of the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) Task Force led by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. The goal of this task force was to determine ways to better serve our state’s law enforcement officers by paying them what they deserve and providing them with the materials they need to protect our state. I sponsored Senate Bill 366, which was a direct result of the task force’s findings. The bill requires local governments to collect and send pay data for local law enforcement to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) on a yearly basis. DCA will compile and analyze the data then report their findings back to the local governments, who will use the report to adopt a guidance pay scale. SB 366 also creates a grant program for communities with a low tax base to better pay their officers. Each part of this bill will lead to far more competitive pay for our state’s law enforcement officers – a key part of maintaining officer retention and recruiting highly qualified candidates to local police and sheriff’s departments. Three other bills from the COPS task force were passed, each sponsored by co-chair Sen. Greg Kirk. SB 367 expands the recipient list for indemnification payments to include estates, SB 368 will provide technical support for officers by working with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and SB 369 requires a $5 pre-trial diversion fee paid into the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund.

I am also continuing to make progress on the rural broadband legislation that was discussed in last week’s update. SB 232, which is the substitute for the original broadband expansion bill from the 2017 session, is still in committee, but I am confident it will be voted out soon. The goal of SB 232 is to increase competition and offer broadband services to rural areas without incurring additional costs on the taxpayer. Under this legislation, our 42 Electric Membership Cooperatives would be able to provide internet services and broadband to their customers.

The Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act, or SB 402, contains the bulk of language to expand broadband services to rural Georgia. By increasing cross-agency coordination between the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the Georgia Technology Alliance (GTA) and DCA, SB 402 seeks to expand fiber optic cabling to last-mile destinations by using existing infrastructure. The bill creates a grant program through One Georgia for communities lacking broadband access. This legislation also sets the specifics for creating a new community designation through DCA. These new communities, which will be known as “broadband ready,” will qualify for the grant programs and streamline the permitting process to mitigate the hurdles for private investment. In addition, there is a section that creates a new tax exemption for rural “broadband ready” communities with a population below 50,000 or that are 40 percent or below underserved. Each of the changes to existing code are being done in an effort to achieve connectivity everywhere – a major first step toward the greater goal of rural economic development. SB 402 has been voted out of committee unanimously and will soon be voted on by the Senate.

The third broadband related bill is the Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act, or SB 426. This bill seeks to streamline the deployment of wireless broadband by addressing how local governments regulate the utility companies’ use of the right of way for locating wireless antennas and structures.  Reducing unnecessary regulations and costs will create a greater incentive for private companies to partner with the state to achieve expanded rural broadband coverage. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, where it awaits further review.

This week, I also had the pleasure of welcoming several guests from the 51st district to the Senate. On Monday, we honored students and faculty from Mountain Education Charter High School, which serves more than 2,500 students from 40 north Georgia counties. It was also a pleasure to have Pastor Michael Rodgers from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Dahlonega serve as the Senate’s Chaplain of the Day. Pastor Rodgers led us in word of prayer and encouraged us with his words of wisdom. On Wednesday, we honored the Woody Gap School for its 78 years of providing quality education to students in Union County. Lastly, Thursday we welcomed leaders from Gilmer County and the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce, to celebrate Apple Day at the state Capitol.

If you have questions regarding any of my legislation or any issue facing the Senate, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. Thank you for putting your trust in me as your state Senator, and I look forward to serving you throughout the session.

Achieving Connectivity Everywhere, One Step at a Time

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

As of Thursday, we completed 18 of our 40 legislative days for the 2018 session.  We are drawing closer to Crossover Day and the workload for committees is in full swing. We are now passing legislation in both chambers daily.

Numerous bills are being drafted and amended to address the issue of inadequate internet service in rural Georgia.  This has been a very time consuming challenge to work on for the past 18 months.  Both the House and Senate are studying different ways to increase competition, streamline the permitting process of government red-tape and remove barriers that discourage internet providers from upgrading their infrastructure in a rapidly changing technological environment.

I have three separate bills that will be considered this session.  Senate Bill 402, appropriately named the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act, was introduced this week. This legislation will layout the framework for creating a statewide broadband plan. Additionally, it addresses the conducting of research and data collection that is needed to steer any federal or state funds that will be provided in the future in terms of grants, loans or investments for broadband infrastructure.  Fully utilizing existing fiber-optics owned by both the public and private sectors will ensure efficiencies are in place before we spend tax dollars to get the most bang for the buck.  Further, opening up the use of our interstate highway system rights of way for the first time ever for the installation and deployment of fiber-optic infrastructure will reduce costs, streamline the permitting process and expedite the expansion of access to the internet in rural Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is exploring ways through a public, private partnership to create a state of the art fiber network that can assist them in their traffic control and safety needs while also adapting to new emerging transportation technologies such as autonomous vehicles.  This fiber network can also be utilized for connection to the far reaches of our state by providing access to the super highway of the internet.  SB 402 encourages GDOT and other state and local agencies to coordinate their efforts through the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) to create the state’s first broadband strategy.   President Trump has recently announced that his infrastructure plan of approximately $1.5 trillion should include funding for broadband investments in rural America.  This plan will put Georgia at the front of the line to be prepared to receive those funds when available.

The biggest challenge to better internet access is the ability to reach the customer (known as the last mile of service).  Senate Bill 232, a bill I introduced last session, will be amended in committee next week to enable any of our 42 Electric Membership Cooperatives to provide internet services and broadband to their customers.  Our EMC’s represent approximately 4 million Georgians, most of which reside in rural parts of the state.  I feel more competition in a free market system will bring better and faster results to the challenge of broadband needs in our state and throughout the country.  Other states have already made this change and the results are showing to be positive so far.

And finally, a new bill will be introduced next week that will be known as the BILD ACT.  It simply adopts new laws pertaining to the use of pubic rights of ways.  The rapid changing technology of cell phones and hand held devices is causing local and state governments across the country to reconsider how to regulate the utility companies’ use of the right of way for locating wireless antennas and structures.  Small Cell technologies are being deployed in higher populated areas that allow increased wireless connectivity.  This technology however requires poles and antennas to be located closer together but at much lower heights than the current cell tower structures we see today.  Placing these antennas on street lights, existing utility poles, bridges and buildings will lower the cost of deployment and also help camouflage their appearances.  This evolving technology will also be deployed in rural areas as saturation in the higher populated areas occurs.

As always, legislation never seems to stay unchanged from start to finish.  I anticipate vigorous debate will ensue while we work with many stakeholders and interest groups at the capitol.  Lobbyists from practically every utility company, cell phone provider, internet service provider, local and state agencies, and many other organizations will weigh in to protect their interests.  My intent is to pass legislation that will help promote better job opportunities, economic development, access to better healthcare, education and a higher quality of life in rural Georgia.  I welcome your thoughts and comments as we move through this process.

Rep. Graves Applauds House Passage of Cyber Policy Bill

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) today voted for and the House passed the Cyber Diplomacy Act (H.R. 3776), of which Rep. Graves is a co-sponsor. The bill details an international cybersecurity policy for the United States.

“This is a bipartisan, America-first cybersecurity bill. It will help protect Georgians and all Americans from foreign cybercriminals and other bad actors by ensuring the United States is a leading voice on international cybersecurity issues,” said Rep. Graves.

Specifically, H.R. 3776 instructs the president to secure commitments from other nations to act responsibly in cyberspace. It creates a new position at the State Department for an ambassador for cyberspace and instructs the ambassador to the United Nations to advance our nation’s cyber priorities. The bill also makes clear that the United States has the right to take proportionate countermeasures under international law when it’s victim to malicious cyber activities.

“This legislation is an important step forward for our nation’s cyber policy, and I look forward to making more progress on these critical issues this year, including the bill Rep. Sinema and I introduced to give Americans more tools to protect themselves online, the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act (H.R. 4036),” Rep. Graves concluded