CLARKESVILLE - The 2014 legislative session is under way in Georgia, and District 10 Rep. Terry Rogers of Clarkesville expects it to be a quick one.
"I think it's sort of like a movie title," Rogers said. "I think it's going to be called 'Fast and Furious.' It's going to be a very fast, intense session with the federal government moving up the election schedule for the primary from July until May. You'll see qualifying in March, and all of us are going to be up for re-election.
"The last word I heard is we're probably looking at trying to get out March 21, which would be almost unprecedented," Rogers said. "I think the main issue is obviously the budget. We'll present the people of the state of Georgia a good, solid, balanced budget. That's our No. 1 charge."
District 50 Sen. John Wilkinson agreed about the budget being the priority.
"The Constitution requires us to do one thing: pass a balanced budget," Wilkinson said. "A lot of people may not think that's that big a deal, but of course if you look at our federal government, if they could A) pass a budget, and B) it be balanced, that would be quite an accomplishment. I think we've done a good job with that, and we've done such a good job that it's easy to take that for granted, but that's going to be an important thing that we do."
District 28 Rep. Dan Gasaway, whose district includes Banks, Stephens and a portion of Habersham County, said healthcare costs are hitting state government hard.
"I think we're starting to emerge from the recession, but I think the biggest challenge is even though we're coming out and state revenues are going up, our healthcare costs are increasing significantly," Gasaway said. "People don't realize the State of Georgia is self-insured. What that means is that we pay all our insurance costs - it's not going to some insurance company up in the moon. It's all paid by the employees of Georgia, and those rates are absorbing almost all of the new revenue growth."
Wilkinson said federal government uncertainties, such as sequester and healthcare, also play into the state budgeting process.
"There's just so much uncertainty with healthcare and the Affordable Care Act, all those things, and of course all of us know in our state and in our country that healthcare is such a huge expense and it is changing so much," Wilkinson said. "There's so much uncertainty it's hard to predict, but we'll just be working through that. It's a work in progress."
Rogers said the state also is focusing on its future.
"I think you'll see a strong emphasis once again on economic development and job creation," Rogers said. "Over the course of the last four years, Gov. Deal has worked very closely with both the House and the Senate in the legislature. There have been about 180,000 jobs created in Georgia - about 90,000 directly attributed to the state. And these are private sector jobs, they're not state jobs. As a matter of fact, he's cut state employees during that time. We'll continue to put things in place to create jobs."
Education is another area the legislators believe will take up legislators' time during the session.
"Education is going to be something that's important," Rogers said. "I think that there are some things that have to be tweaked as far as education goes, and we'll be looking at that."
"I'm hoping very much that we can find some additional revenue for teachers, because the teachers have suffered tremendously over the past five or six years," Gasaway said. "I'm hearing the governor is proposing that, and I really hope we can make that happen."
One area Rogers said will come back for refinement is a comprehensive juvenile justice reform package passed last year - one that results in additional requirements for prosecution and defense.
"Probably the other thing would be the juvenile justice reform," Rogers said. "We passed a great, strong package last year, but I think there may be some adjustments to that."