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Distracted driving, opioid issues will generate discussion under Gold Dome

State Representative Rick Jasperse previews legislative session




With Georgia on solid ground with revenue, the legislative session opening this week will see lawmakers looking at how to improve the Peach State. 

In a preview of the session, State Rep. Rick Jasperse (District 11) said, “We’ll be looking at how to make Georgia a better place. We want to continue to see Georgia as a great place to do business and to live.”

The state budget is the number one issue, reaching into all other areas of government. From schools to prisons, it falls back on the budget as to what the state can do, said Jasperse, who has represented Pickens County in the state’s House since 2010.

The budget will have two major items to be discussed: healthcare costs for state employees and school funding. Lawmakers recognize that Georgia is growing, probably enough to see the state allocated another congressional seat after the 2021 census. Estimates indicate the state population of roughly 9 million could grow to more than 10 million when the next census figures are released.

Jasperse expects last year’s budget of $22 billion to grow this year, but the state will stick to its fiscally responsible philosophy. 

“We have always operated with a have to in mind not can. What do we have to do, rather than what can we do.”

Jasperse predicted one of the more interesting aspects of the upcoming session will be the political jockeying for the elections later this year for all the constitutional officers, including governor and lt. governor. He said there would be plenty of grandstanding among the candidates. However most of the political theatrics will be over rhetorical issues. 

“The budget is business,” Jasperse said. “It’s a sacred cow.”

Jasperse’s forecast on big issues:

• Transportation – The state will look at allowing more flexibility for counties to spend TSPLOST (transportation sales tax) money as they see fit. Especially if counties partner together, such as two counties that want to address a road that runs through both, the state will allow more leeway for local leaders to tackle problems. Jasperse said the sentiment will be ‘let’s let the counties work to fix local issues and the state will continue work on the larger issues’. 

• Opioid problems – There will be a lot of legislation looking at the opioid problem. He foresaw some legislative attention to addiction treatment centers. Several study committees have been at work on how to best address opioid issues.

• Distracted Driving – Jasperse said he is certain there will be bills introduced calling for stiffer penalties or more rules regarding cell phone use and distracted driving, possibly going as far as making it a ticketable offense for anyone driving while holding a cell phone. However, the representative from Pickens County said he would oppose efforts that go too far or punish people with older cars lacking Bluetooth options. Besides “beating up on the poor” who can’t afford hands-free technology, Jasperse is not convinced that moving the texts and other distractions from a phone to a panel on the car is much safer.

• Rural Economic Development Council – Jasperse said he was proud to have been among the council members who travelled around the state to look at how to spread out economic activity.

Jasperse quoted House Speaker David Ralston who charged them with seeing that people’s economic situation isn’t dictated by their zip code. 

“We know everyone doesn’t want to be like Atlanta, but they need to have access to opportunities,” Jasperse said.

From their travels and hearings two things came out as chief among the challenges of seeing that all Georgians benefit from the state’s growing economy: access to broadband internet and more equal healthcare.

The issue of poor access to quality healthcare hits hard in southern Georgia, where many hospitals are on the verge of closing. Jasperse said the legislature needs to strengthen the rural doctor and hospital relationship.

Another issue that came to light under the rural economic development council’s work is that incentives for businesses to locate to Georgia are skewed towards metro areas. 

“We need to see that there are equal incentives for someone to move to Jasper or to Banks County [as Atlanta].”

• Technical Education – Jasperse said Georgia has a long record of stellar adult technical education and they will work to maintain this as a prime link to industry. The state’s workforce, through technical education, must be able to respond to needs such as the one now in north Georgia for welders being addressed by the expansion of the program at Chattahoochee Tech.

• Prison classes - The state is also doing more to expand education classes in state prisons. Jasperse said there is always a pendulum in regard to inmates that swings from absolutely nothing for them to efforts to rehabilitate. The past few years have been guided by a philosophy of just let them sit there, but now the pendulum has moved towards more education and job skills for inmates. 

• Cyber-Terrorism – Most people may be unaware that Augusta is the military’s base for cyber-terrorism response/training. Jasperse said the legislature will expand training in state colleges to help students interested in technology be ready for careers in cyber-terrorism defense units.