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Transportation, education still top issues
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

As the 2015 General Assembly was gaveled into session, there was much activity as we took the oath of office, elected our leadership, and then proceeded to watch the inauguration of Gov. Nathan Deal and the slate of state officers as they were sworn in.

In his state of the state address, Gov. Deal made education considerations one of the state’s top priorities, announcing the establishment of an education reform commission to study a number of matters regarding our education system. Issues to be deliberated will include increasing access to Georgia’s world-class early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in our classrooms, and expanding school options for Georgia’s families.

This group, which will be composed of educators, legislators, and a variety of other stakeholders, will recommend potential improvements by Aug. 1.

When I first walked into the Capitol this session, a member of the press corps approached me and inquired as to what I thought would be the important issues this year. My response was, “pot and pot holes.” And the truth is, medical marijuana and highway construction and maintenance funding will be in the forefront of those issues to be discussed.

The governor has addressed the medical use of cannabis oil for children with severe seizures, expressing that he hopes to sign legislation that decriminalizes cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The chemical properties of this oil contain fractional amounts of THC, the substance in marijuana that intoxicates users.

Although proposed legislation for this issue was contentious last session and did not pass, research shows that the benefits of this treatment are overwhelmingly positive. In some cases, children with severe seizure disorders have been documented as having hundreds of seizures within one week. Responsible legislation can make this medical alternative a much-needed reality for children and families who are suffering.

I have been a supporter of this issue since it was first introduced and will continue to support its passage, but I was somewhat dismayed a week or so ago when the bill was amended to essentially prohibit any legal means of procurement in Georgia. It can’t be grown here legally and it is illegal to be sold in Colorado for use out of state. If we are truly going to assist these families, we need to find a way to overcome this pretty significant impediment to making it available to those Georgians whose lives it could greatly benefit.

As I mentioned in last week’s report, one of the dominating issues this year will be finding a transportation funding source. After the voters of Georgia rejected the transportation special local option sales tax (T-SPLOST) in most regions a few years ago, our ability to fund transportation projects has stalled. The General Assembly and the governor will be working on a transportation plan that will address the ongoing needs of maintenance and repair, as well as freight corridor and other transportation improvements.

I personally believe this is something that can and should be accomplished. Unfortunately, in the 2014 fiscal year, we collected approximately 17 percent less in state motor fuel funds per capita for transportation than we did a quarter of a century ago, in part because of greater fuel efficiency. However, we currently have millions more people travelling on our roads.

According to industry experts, simply maintaining what we currently have on our roadways requires a minimum of hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue each year. This is a critical problem that needs a viable solution and one the General Assembly will work toward finding.

In all of my discussions with constituents, local officials, “transportation experts,” and legislators, there seems to be two common denominators: (1) Improvements need to occur and soon. (2) There is anything but unanimity about how it should be funded. For those of us who routinely travel through the I-95 and Highway 21 and/or the I-95 and Pooler Parkway interchanges during peak traffic hours, traffic congestion and the related safety issues are commonplace and a real source of consternation that will just continue to get worse if not addressed.

While I don’t profess any easy answer, I am opposed to continuing to “kick the can further down the highway.”

This coming week, the appropriations committees of the House and Senate will gather to hear budget requests of the various departments, ask questions, and then begin to solve the annual budget dilemma. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am dedicated to spending our tax dollars wisely and will report to you about decisions made regarding the state budget once it is determined.

Meanwhile, please let me know if I can be of service to you as we move forward this session. Your concerns and thoughts are important to me. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative!