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Rural Georgia gets legislative attention, funding
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The plight of Rural Georgia has been the subject of discussion from time to time over the years, but when preliminary population figures began to show how little many rural counties had grown in the past decade, attention again was focused on the problems facing the rural parts of the state. Last year the House of Representatives formed a Rural Development Council that traveled the state, listening to rural leaders outline their problems and the ideas they had for growth. At the same time, a Senate Study Committee was formed and had a number of meetings around the state highlighting the need for Rural Broadband and job creation.
The result of this attention has been new legislation, much of which passed this year and funding initiatives where legislation wasn’t needed or where the funding was included to meet the expected passage of legislation.
This column format will focus on the legislation passed that will benefit Rural Georgia and various funding initiatives that were included in the FY 2019 Budget.

Legislation affecting
rural areas
HB 951 — Establishes the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation, a director and the Rural Development Council. Center will assume the duties of the Centers of Innovation for Agribusiness now administered by the Department of Economic Development. This center is expected to be located at ABAC College in Tifton.

HB 769 — Establishes Rural Health System Innovation Center within the state Office of Rural Health. Establishes criteria for rural hospital board members and executives’ training and requires training. Raises the population of eligible counties to 50,000 and increases the percentage of tax credit to 100% for the Rural Hospital Tax Credit Program. Establishes a grant program to benefit doctors practicing in underserved rural counties. An RFP will allow colleges to compete to host the Innovation Center.

SB 357 — Creates the Health Coordination and Innovation Council. Creates the position of Health Care Policy and Strategic Planning within the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. Sets state goals and submits budget requests to meet those goals. Establishes Advisory Board.

SB 402 — ”Achieving Connectivity Everywhere Act” Combines elements of SB 402 and SB 232 allowing construction of broadband infrastructure in public rights of way. Tasks the Department of Community Affairs to establish grant program to expand broadband to underserved parts of the state. Names Georgia Technology Authority to establish policies and programs to coordinate state-wide deployment of broadband.

Funding for rural economic development
Total Funds — $19.02 million for the development, design and implementation of an Enterprise Data Solution and plan for future portals to support rural data analytics partners.

$1.7 million — Funds for the Center for Rural prosperity and Innovations.

$8.2 million — In Bonds for a teaching facility with Ag focus at Elberton through Athens Technical College.

$1.1 million — Funds 4 new positions in the Department of Agriculture to “strengthen domestic and international activities for Georgia products including an expansion and growth director, a domestic sales coordinator, an international trade coordinator and a business specialist”

$130,000 — for a downtown development attorney to assist communities in writing grants and administering tax credit programs. This position would be assigned to Community of Affairs.

$3.675 million — Additional funds for the OneGeorgia rural economic development fund.

$376,974 — Funds the new position of Deputy Commissioner for Rural Development in the Department of Economic Development along with a project manager and operating expenses.

$12.4 million — In Bonds to fund rehabilitation of state-owned rail lines throughout Rural Georgia.

In addition to the attention given to Rural Economic Development, a number of initiatives have begun addressing the health concerns of rural population. These initiatives, both policy and funding initiatives will be addressed in a future column.