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Legislators hold town hall meeting

Staff Photo: Jay Jones
 Sen. Rick Jeffares, far left, and Rep. Pam Dickerson listen to discussion during a legislators’ town hall meeting Saturday at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. 

Staff Photo: Jay Jones Sen. Rick Jeffares, far left, and Rep. Pam Dickerson listen to discussion during a legislators’ town hall meeting Saturday at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. 

CONYERS — Members of the Rockdale County delegation to the Georgia General Assembly got an earful from residents Saturday during a town hall meeting as a preview to the start of the 2011 legislature session next week.

The five legislators and a representative for Sen. Ronald Ramsey, who did not attend due to sickness, focused on the anticipated $2 billion state budget deficit, transportation issues and continued debate foreclosure relief during their opening comments.

Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-Locust Grove, representing the 17th Senate district said with a wide budget gap and unemployment in Georgia at 10 percent, job creation should be a lead issue this year in the General Assembly.

"Somehow, we're going to have to give industries and companies tax incentives to come to Georgia to create jobs," he said. "We're not going to buy our way out, like the federal government wants us to, of this problem that we're in. We've got to create jobs and get people back to working. That's the number one thing."

Rep. Pam Stephenson, D-Decatur, who serves the 92nd House District and is the delegation chairwoman, covered several issues including the state-wide

referendum in 2012 seeking voter approval of a regional one percent sales tax to fund transportation projects. She did not vote for the measure, House Bill 277, to have a referendum for the sales tax, often referred to as a T-SPLOST, because of questions of implementation if voters approve the measure.

Local resident Mike Houchard said he was concerned that Rockdale County would become a donor county in how T-SPLOST is currently structured. He said the county would generate more sales tax revenue than it would receive in return in road projects.

"We will collect approximately between $12-$15 million a year in a 1-cent sales tax and that bill only guarantees us a return of $2-$4 million. From a business decision, that's just poor to put us in that position, and I don't think I can support a referendum that imposes a 1-cent sales tax and only returns $4 million as a opposed to $15 million donated."

Stephenson said she did not vote for the T-SPLOST referendum last year due to questions on how to implement the program and was glad to hear from Jeffares that the Senate plans to revisit the measure.

"Just the principles of it from a business perspective and a public efficiency perspective do not work," she said. "I really hope the Senate sends something over that can be fixed to the House. The (transportation) caucus chair, Donna Sheldon (House Republican from Dacula, said we're going to look at a regional (transit) system. That just means we're going to mess with MARTA. That's not affixed to the bill and I'm not going to support that."

On upcoming reappointment, Stephenson also said she supported Rockdale County as a whole being placed in a single state House district rather than the current districts which have the county divided among four state representatives.

Conyers attorney Sherri Washington called on legislators to revise the state's child abuse laws to consider intent when cases involving parents using corporal punishment with their children. She has a client who faces child abuse charges from an attempt to discipline her daughter who was arrested for shoplifting. A teacher at the girl's school noticed marks on the child and called authorities.

Washington said the case was the third she's worked on in the last six months where a parent was charged for attempting to discipline their child.

"We're going to have to come up with some way in which we can educate parents that there's no longer a viable ‘whooping,' as we call it, or a viable means of disciplining your children," she said. "Now, we have parents going to jail and facing charges for what they consider loving their children, disciplining them, showing them they have severe consequences when you do something like stealing."

Other topics brought up included a request from Rockdale Sheriff Jeff Wigington to increasing compensation for housing state inmates in county jails, resident Jim Roppo's request to review Rockdale's school millage rate which receives an exemption from the state's cap, and revising how the state collects sales taxes to better identify which retail outlets are not paying sales taxes.

Also, Rockdale County School Board member Darlene Hotchkiss asked legislators not to cut pre-K funding in the HOPE scholarship and education fund.