Category Archives: Politics

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.

Senate Passes Bills to Aid Local Law Enforcement

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Senate Republicans advanced a package of four bills on Wednesday that will strengthen support and compensation for Georgia’s local law enforcement officers. With bi-partisan support, the vote was nearly unanimous on every bill.

The legislation – Senate Bills 366, 367, 368 and 369 – follow the recommendations of the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) Task Force, which Lt. Governor Cagle and the Senate launched last year to investigate and address compensation, benefits, and retention of Georgia’s police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and jailers. The task force was co-chaired by Lt. Governor Cagle and Sen. Greg Kirk (R – Americus). Members included Sens. Tyler Harper (R – Ocilla), Jack Hill (R – Reidsville), Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega), Tonya Anderson (D – Lithonia), and John Wilkinson (R – Toccoa).

“Whenever Georgians are asked about the most important issue they face in their lives, invariably public safety is at the top of their list of concerns,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R – Athens). “I am amazed at the sacrifices our local law enforcement officers make with the long hours they work, with the perilous duties, and for the low pay that they receive. I’m surprised that we are able to find anyone to do their jobs – and the Senate wants these brave men and women to know that we appreciate them.”

Lt. Governor Cagle said state efforts to ensure local law enforcement officers are compensated fairly will continue.

“Today is an important first step for our local law enforcement officers as we work to acknowledge their sacrifices and selfless service to the people of Georgia,” said Lt. Governor Cagle. “We owe our full support to the men and women who keep our communities safe, and that’s why the Senate has advanced a comprehensive set of solutions that will lead to higher salaries and better benefits for local law enforcement officers. I’m proud of the work we have accomplished alongside so many of Georgia’s dedicated officers.”

This legislative package includes SB 366, which would require cities and counties to report salaries for local law enforcement officers to the Department of Community Affairs, which will compile the data and will compare regional pay scales to encourage competitive compensation levels. SB 367 increases support for families of fallen officers by allowing indemnification funds to be paid to an estate. SB 368 provides technical assistance to rural police departments and sheriffs’ offices. Finally, SB 369 makes necessary updates to enhance retirement and disability payments provided through the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit fund.

“All we have to do is turn on the news to see the dangers our law enforcement officers confront day in and day out,” said Sen. Greg Kirk. “I would like to thank Lt. Governor Cagle for his strong leadership and support for our law enforcement officers. This is only the beginning of our efforts to reward our officers for their tireless service.”

“Thanks to Lt. Governor Cagle for his leadership. Our officers place their lives on the line for our communities every single day,” said Sen. John Albers (R – Roswell), Chairman of the Public Safety Committee. “It is vital they have all the necessary resources to serve our communities.”

“Law enforcement officers all across this state put service before self on a daily basis. I’m proud to join my Senate colleagues and Lt. Governor Cagle in leading the fight to ensure our law enforcement community has our full support,” added Sen. Tyler Harper.

“It was an honor to serve on the COPS Task Force and to carry SB 366 in the Senate,” said Sen. Steve Gooch. “This legislation will assist local governments with retention, recruitment, and competition within law enforcement. Raising salaries for people who put their lives on the line every day is simply the right thing to do. I look forward to working with the House of Representatives to secure final passage of this legislation.”

Jerry Shearin Elected to State Transportation Board

ATLANTA—The State Transportation Board (STB) has a new member. Today Jerry Shearin of Paulding County was elected to represent the Fourteenth Congressional District (CD 14) in northwest Georgia. In addition, Board veterans Jamie Boswell of CD 10 and Emily Dunn of CD 9 were re-elected. Each was affirmed by state representatives and senators from their respective district to serve a five-year term.

State Transportation Board Members (L-R) STB Chairman Jamie Boswell, CD 10; Emily Dunn, CD 9; Jerry Shearin, CD 14

Jerry Shearin of Dallas is a former Paulding County Commission chairman, and works with McAdams Insurance Agency. He fills the seat left vacant due to the retirement of former Board Member Roger Williams.

Shearin thanked the delegation from CD 14 for their support. “I appreciate your faith in me and am thrilled to represent you and our constituents,” he said. “Transportation is a key issue for Georgia. I look forward to being a part of the State Transportation Board as we strive to make positive steps for the future of our state.”

Jamie Boswell of Athens is the chairman of the State Transportation Board. He was originally elected to the Board in 2013 and represents Congressional District 10. As Board chairman, Boswell serves as ex officio member of all committees.

“Technology is the future of transportation,” Boswell said. “I am proud to be a member of the Board, for my role in shaping the transportation system in Georgia and for the opportunity to bear witness to the impact that technology is having and will have on our transportation system.”

Boswell is president and owner of the Boswell Group, which includes insurance, real estate and appraisal companies. He is a member of the Oconee County Economic Development Authority has served as president of several real estate associations.

Emily Dunn of Blue Ridge was originally elected to the State Transportation Board in 2011 and went on to become the first female chairman of the board in 2015. She represents Congressional District 9 in northeast Georgia. Dunn is currently chair of the Equal Access Committee and serves on the Administrative, Legislative and Program Delivery/Consultant Services/Contractors committees.

“The Board and the entire staff at GDOT are committed to transparency and accountability in the transportation process,” Dunn said. “This Board makes things happen and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve not only those in my congressional district, but also to help to move transportation ahead to benefit all Georgians.”

Dunn was named by Engineering Georgia magazine as one of their “100 Influential Women to Know” for 2018. She is a registered nurse, president of Tom’s Amusement Company, Inc. and the Amusement and Music Operations Association (AMOA), chairman of the board of directors for the Fannin Literacy Action Group and on the board of trustees for Fannin Regional Hospital.