By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A big session for Effingham issues
Hitchens Bill
State Rep. Bill Hitchens

As I reflect on the 2016 legislative session, I first want to extend my appreciation for your support and your valuable input as I carefully considered how to best represent our district with each vote. Several pieces of legislation were passed that will have a great impact on our community and ultimately make our lives a little better.

Although it was the most difficult bill I have carried thus far, it was a great victory for our area and our state when HB 1036 was passed placing a moratorium on the pipeline that was proposed by Kinder Morgan until July 2017. Essentially because of this legislation, the company rescinded their proposal for a 200-mile petroleum pipeline that would run through part of Effingham County and southeast Georgia, cutting through personal property under what is called “eminent domain.”

I know that news of this legislation was a great relief for concerned property owners who were on the suggested path of the pipeline. And after the mercury contamination in the Savannah River years ago, and the more recent fish kill disaster in the Ogeechee River, I worked with several environmental groups to be certain we were proactive in ensuring environmental issues and protections were incorporated into the bill.

This bill is a sound example of our legislative system working for the good of the people. I was extremely pleased to see that this bill passed and very thankful for the support and assistance of Majority Leader Jon Burns and Sen. Jack Hill, along with my colleagues whose districts were in the path of the proposed pipeline.

Another big win for our district is the allocation of $44 million that will be used for the long-anticipated Effingham Parkway. The money will come from the transportation-funding bill that was passed last year to implement and improve the state’s infrastructure. The interchange between I-95 and Highway 21 will also be widened and reconfigured which will greatly ease the frustration of the morning and evening high-traffic commute. The completion date of this project is scheduled for the fall 2017.

Also, I-16 from I-95 to I-516 will be widened to three lanes on each side, and the interchange at I-16 and I-95 will be completely reconfigured to make it safer and more efficient. This is great news for all of us — from truck drivers headed to the port to every employee going to work or parent taking their child to school. I consider these major highlights of the session!

The budget also included many items that will have a positive effect on our district in the areas of education, safety and health care. Savannah State University will receive $2 million to equip its new science and technology building and Armstrong University will receive $2 million for the renovation of the Greenblatt Library. The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography received $3 million for the Barn Bio Lab at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Money spent to further the quality of education for our students is well spent and will allow for better equipped graduates when they enter the workforce.

As our police forces increasingly use technology to fight crime, it is good that for the second year in a row $1 million was earmarked for a new state crime lab in the Savannah area. Next year there will be a larger appropriation to actually fund the project which will include a new building that will be located along the Pooler Parkway. This will increase the size of the new facility to 65,000 square feet from the 14,000 square foot building they now occupy.

It will also add three new forensic pathologist positions to the two existing physicians, who are currently overwhelmed with their volume of work. In addition, other forensic scientists with special skills will be assigned and updated equipment will be added which will enhance the crime fighting ability of the fine men and women who are committed to serving and protecting our community.

It is my honor to represent you at the state Capitol as well as here at home. Whether in session or out, I serve to the upmost of my ability with the values of our fine district, keeping your family and future in mind as I consider each decision carefully. I look forward to seeing you around our district and continuing to serve you!