Hall County legislators gathered Thursday morning at Lanier Technical College in Gainesville and discussed the most pressing issues moving into the next legislative session.
Eggs & Issues has been hosted by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce for nearly three decades. Their goal is to bring newly elected officials before the public to introduce themselves and answer questions on the most pressing matters before the upcoming legislative session. The event accommodated more than 500 county officials, businesses and citizens at the Ramsey Conference Center on the Lanier Tech campus.
Seven Hall County delegation members were included on the panel during the event: District 49 Senator Shelly Echols, District 50 Senator Bo Hatchett, House District 27 Representative Lee Hawkins, House District 28 Representative Brent Cox, House District 29 Representative Matt Dubnik, House District 30 Representative Derrick McCollum and House District 31 Representative Emory Dunahoo, Jr. House District 100 Representative David Clark and House District 103 Representative Soo Hong were not in attendance.
The delegation answered many questions—some that were prepared before the event, and some that were written and submitted by members of the audience. Topics included mental health, teacher pay and education, workforce shortages, marijuana legalization, transportation, tax refunds, healthcare, casinos and gambling and business expansion. Doug Carter, president of Don Carter Realty, mediated the discussion.
Both Echols and Dubnik provided comments on teacher pay concerns. Dubnik began by praising Gov. Brian Kemp’s initiative to increase teacher pay, citing the $5,000 increase as evidence of their success thus far. Echols hopes to continue the trend, stating that more student-teacher programs would help the education system as well.
On the topic of workforce shortages, Hatchett affirmed Georgia as the top state in the nation to do business, emphasizing the need to encourage more young people to consider technical education and trade schools as the backbone of the community. Cox echoed that sentiment, saying that trade apprenticeships should be heavily encouraged.
The entire delegation stood in opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Hatchett, Dubnik and Dunahoo explained their position in support of medical marijuana legalization, sharing first-hand stories of the impact the plant has had on suffering patients in the past.
Hatchett and Dunahoo said it’s their hope the state budget surplus is addressed in the next year, stating that they would prefer most of that money goes back into the pockets of taxpayers. While they weren’t able to provide a timeline, it is reportedly an issue they plan to focus on in the coming months.
Casinos and gambling are continuously a topic of debate during legislative sessions. Cox detailed the potential positives, giving the example of how some lottery money goes toward scholarships, but still affirmed his resistance. Hatchett agreed with Hawkins on matters pertaining to sports betting. Currently, residents in Georgia can bet on sports through various applications, with the state receiving no money from those transactions. Hatchett said that Georgia gets nothing from the unregulated $4 billion sports betting industry in the state alone. The entire delegation was in stark opposition to casinos.
Newly elected Senator Echols said after the event that it was exciting to have so many community members attend and show concern for the forward progress that is being made in Hall County.
“It's reassuring to see that so many people are interested in what's coming up in the legislative session,” Echols said. “You know, as someone who hasn't been through the process yet, it's a little nerve-racking. And, you know, you want to make sure that you don't sound like an idiot up there. So I've spent a lot of time before now learning issues and talking to businesses and industries and seeing what they need from the legislature. So to see that kind of all wrap-up today was exciting and certainly an honor to represent the district.”
McDonald's sponsored the breakfast, providing biscuits, coffee and muffins. Jackson Electric Membership Corporation presented the event, as they have done many times in the past.
Vice President of Economic Development Tim Evans said that providing a space where elected officials can speak directly with their constituents is critical to the flow of communication within the local government.
“It's a way to connect our business community and community leadership with our legislative delegation, ahead of the Georgia General Assembly that will start in January,” Evans said. “Georgia’s General Assembly meets for a very short period—40 days, in the early part of the year. This event lets all of us know, what are the issues, the important issues that affect business, education, health care, and our lives as citizens. And we can hear from our legislators what's on their mind, and we get a chance to ask them questions about issues that are important to our members that are here.”
Eggs & Issues ended with a heartfelt address by Carter, who praised Chamber of Commerce President Kit Dunlap and her family. Dunlap was not in attendance due to the sudden passing of her son, Jamie Dunlap, 53, who suffered a heart attack on December 3. The audience and delegation at the event offered prayers and condolences to those in association with the Dunlap family.
The Georgia state legislative session will begin on January 9 and run for 40 days. You can learn more about the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce by visiting its website.