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Rep. Hitchens' weekly report

POSTED: January 12, 2017 10:43 a.m.

 

The Georgia General Assembly begins the 2017 session on January 9 and as I head to Atlanta, I take very seriously the responsibility that you’ve given me to represent you.

It is my hope that this year our community and our state will experience peace and prosperity and I look forward to working with my colleagues toward making Georgia an even better place to raise families, have employment opportunities, and enjoy leisure time.

There’s always much work to be done, and there are several issues that I intend to address this session.

First, I will begin work on a bill regarding uniformity with how 911 centers are organized and ensure that the funds collected through the tax on our telephone service actually goes where it is intended. This is paramount to providing excellent service for all who call 911 for the safety of our community and to ensure fiscal responsibility.

I will also work on introducing a bill that will make an unprovoked attack on a public safety officer a hate crime or increase the current penalties. 

As you undoubtedly know through the national news, recently law enforcement officers and even a couple of firemen have been attacked by individuals across the country for no reason other than their employment status, which is easily identifiable by their wearing of uniforms and occupying police, fire or EMS vehicles.

I still need to do some additional research on how to increase the penalties for this type of behavior, but I believe it is important to send a message that attacks like this will not be tolerated on the very people who provide for our safety.

In the last month, six law enforcement officers in Georgia have been shot, two of them fatally. 

We must do everything that we can to protect them as they put their lives on the line each day to protect us.

Another issue that I will address is regarding our military.

I served on a Military Affairs study committee this year and one of the most important issues that we researched is the Base Realignment and Closure Commissions (BRAC) that resulted in Georgia losing four military bases, resulting in a significant impact on our economy.

We traveled to every active duty military base in the state, spoke with the base leadership personnel, the local elected officials and other stakeholders. 

In each locale we held a public hearing and sought citizen input. 

From an economic standpoint, the military is the largest employer in Georgia and contributes over $20 billion dollars to Georgia’s economy, almost equivalent to the current state budget of $23 billion.  In the Savannah area, it is estimated that 80% of Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Air Field’s payroll is spent in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties.

Additionally, the 165th Airlift Wing and the Air Dominance Center located at Travis Field contribute millions more from their local payroll and through the many visitors from all over the United States and many foreign countries that routinely utilize their facilities for training. 

The study committee has identified several issues that could improve the state’s posture with regard to BRAC and at the same time improve the lives of our military personnel and their dependents.  Along with other study committee members, I will be introducing legislation in accordance with the recommendations of the committee.  Primary among them is a bill to exclude military retirement pay from being taxed.  Every state that borders Georgia already moved to address that issue.

I also served as the co-chairman of the Georgia Petroleum Pipeline Commission. The Georgia Petroleum Pipeline Commission has not yet concluded its work and I am going to introduce legislation seeking two more years of study while the current moratorium remains in effect.  After we adjourned last year, South Carolina’s Legislature passed a three-year moratorium on Petroleum Pipelines so regardless of our status the Palmetto Pipeline cannot connect in Belton, South Carolina for two more years.  Therefore, I believe it is pragmatic to take our time and cover all the issues concerning petroleum pipelines before initiating legislation. This will insure that our work is indeed in the best interest of the affected areas and the rest of Georgia.  However, in the long term it is likely that legislation concerning eminent domain by private for-profit petroleum pipeline companies and the protection of our environment will materialize. In all of our public hearings, citizens have come forward and spoken concerning private property rights, which most believe are a cornerstone of American citizenship going back to the founding of our country. Many environmental groups as well as private citizens addressed past pipeline spills across the United States as well as the fragile environment along our coast that could be adversely affected should a petroleum pipeline be permitted and a leak occur. Once the commission finishes its work, I predict there will be legislation forthcoming.  One thing is certain and that is whatever the outcome it will not be without controversy.

Finally, another issue that concerns me and that seems to be an increasing problem is counterfeit airbags.  Airbags are an essential and complicated component of modern vehicle safety systems.  Both foreign and domestic counterfeiters are flooding the market with thousands of ineffective airbags that are not capable of working in concert with the vehicles in which they are being installed.  Some of these airbags are filled with sawdust, others with newspapers, and others with nothing at all which means they are not only ineffective but can cause physical harm in an accident. The National Highway Safety Administration, Honda, the insurance industry and other stakeholders have advocated for state laws to address this problem.  Over the past three years, fourteen states have enacted statues to prohibit this dangerous practice. This session I will introduce legislation to stop the unscrupulous people who are endangering our citizens just so that they can make a fast buck.  

It will undoubtedly be an eventful legislative session and I value your input as it is my desire to represent you to my best ability.  Please feel free to contact me at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov. Thank you for placing your trust in me.

 

 

 

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