The issues that are important to rural Georgians are ones that our House Republican Caucus continues to prioritize. As a rural Georgian myself, I know the challenges, and rewards, of living in a rural area. This Session, I was especially proud to vote for four bills that directly impact rural Georgians, including one that is especially close to home.
House Bill 244 passed the House and the Senate and will expand broadband access in the state of Georgia. House Bill 244 directs the Public Service Commission to establish a rate for Electric Membership Corporations to charge broadband service providers for using poles owned by EMCs to expand broadband access for EMC customers. The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated, more than ever, that access to high-quality broadband is vital for the education of Georgia’s students. This important legislation shows our continued commitment to rural Georgia students and makes it clear that a student’s zip code should not determine his or her educational opportunities.
To support our Georgia timber harvesters, I co-sponsored House Bill 897 which establishes the maximum requirements that can be imposed on standing timber harvesters by local ordinances or resolutions in regards to required notices of timber harvesting. Starting in October of this year, the Georgia Forestry Commission will begin maintaining a statewide online registry of timber harvesting notices that can be accessed by local governing authorities and timber harvesters. This bill will provide standardization for timber harvesting notifications, benefiting landowners and preventing local governments from imposing overly restrictive requirements on timber harvesters.
House Bill 966, sponsored by my friend, Representative James Burchett, son of Jill and Marty Fischer of Rincon, regulates the sale and harvest of palmetto berries. As the value of saw palmetto berries has continued to increase, landowners throughout south Georgia have seen their saw palmetto berries being repeatedly targeted by thieves who then sell the berries. This legislation requires a seller of palmetto berries to present to the purchaser a certificate of harvest signed by the landowner from whose land the palmetto berries came. Additionally, criminal penalties are established for those who steal palmetto berries to discourage theft and trespassing on others’ property.
Finally, I was incredibly proud to help secure the final passage of House Bill 786 which overwhelmingly passed the Senate after passing the House earlier this year. This bill creates a seat for a new superior court judge in the Ogeechee Circuit which covers Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins, and Screven Counties. The population of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit has grown at a significant rate, and the three superior court judges in this circuit are each doing the work of a judge and a half according to the Judicial Council of Georgia. Judge Gates Peed of the Ogeechee Circuit was instrumental in bringing this matter to my attention and appeared before the House Judiciary Committee as a representative of the circuit earlier this year. This new judge will be appointed by Governor Kemp and will take his or her seat at the beginning of 2022 and will serve an initial two-year term.
The concerns of District 159 are never far from my mind, and the needs of rural Georgia are ones that I will continue to champion. Thank you all for allowing me to represent Georgia House District 159. It is truly an honor to work for you and this great state. If you have any feedback, do not hesitate to call (404.656.5052), email, or engage on Facebook. If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159, which includes parts of Bulloch County in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House Majority Leader.