New members of legislative delegation attend roundtableBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Members of the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce got a chance to meet the two new members of Coweta’s legislative delegation at a roundtable held Thursday at the Chamber.
State Representatives Carl Von Epps, D-LaGrange, and Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, will officially become members of Coweta’s state legislative delegation on Jan. 1. Thanks to redistricting, their districts now include portions of Coweta.
The fifth member of the legislative delegation is yet to be determined. Robert Stokely and Darryl Marmon are running for the Georgia House District 71 seat currently held by Billy Horne, who is not seeking reelection. Horne was unable to attend Thursday’s event.
Von Epps is completing his 30th year in the Georgia House of Representatives. He’s the pastor of Smith Chapel United Methodist Church on Welcome to Arnco Road. He also works in corporate affairs for a LaGrange corporation.
Von Epps said his district has always included all of Meriwether County. The new district only has a portion of Meriwether. He also gained more areas in Troup County, and four precincts in Coweta: Grantville, Pine Road, Central, and Smokey Road.
“I just look forward to serving and working with you for the betterment of the citizens in the area,” Von Epps said.
“I’m real happy to be here, I’m glad to have the opportunity,” said Ramsey, who has served in the House since 2007. “It’s really exciting to be a part of the Coweta County delegation.”
With the new district, Ramsey lost some of his Fayetteville precincts, and added two-and-a-half in Coweta — Senoia, Haralson, and half of Turin.
Ramsey is a business lawyer who has been practicing in Peachtree City for more than nine years. Before that, he worked for then-Congressman Mac Collins, including some time in Washington, D.C.
“I’m real active and involved with my county chamber,” Ramsey said. “And I look forward to doing the same with y’all.”
“I think we’re all kind of in this together,” he said of Fayette and Coweta. “The more opportunities we can bring for Fayette and Coweta, I think it serves all of us, and I look forward to working with y’all as a partner to make sure we continue to prosper and identify those opportunities and capitalize on them in the years ahead.”
Crane’s district also changed a bit with redistricting. In 2013, he’ll represent the Chattahoochee Hills area of south Fulton County. Crane was elected last fall to replace Mitch Seabaugh. “I’ve been through one full session in the legislative body,” Crane said. “It was very interesting. It’s a very unique environment,” he said. “It has been a great opportunity to serve the folks. We spend a lot of time receiving calls and taking care of constituent issues — on a really broad range of issues you might not even think about,” he said. “From people’s water not being on to helping direct them through the maze of government bureaucracy to sometimes just encouraging folks,” he said. “It’s a really unique opportunity to serve.”
The legislators were asked questions by Chamber Chairman Dennis McEntire and others at the roundtable.
Ramsey spoke about the agenda for next year’s Georgia General Assembly session.
Much of the agenda will be determined by what happens on election day. When it comes to transportation and the proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, “the problem of transportation and the need to invest in infrastructure is not going away,” Ramsey said. “If the referendum fails in a number of regionsâ ¦ the needs aren’t going away, but we’re going to have to start looking for plan B and plan C.”
There’s another major referendum coming up this fall — a vote on a constitutional amendment to give the state power to overrule local boards of education and approve charter schools. The state was already doing that, but a court ruling called into question the state’s power when it comes to education.
Approval of the constitutional amendment “will ensure the state still has a role in education reform,” Ramsey said. “We have to do better in the state of Georgia than we’re doing now in K-12,” he said. “If this ballot initiative failsâ ¦ the state of Georgia, from a policy standpoint, will be out of the business of education reform.”
“I think the result of these two referenda will largely determine a lot of our agenda,” Ramsey said. Also, “I think we’re going to continue chipping away at tax issues.”
“There was a tax bill passed this year but I’m reluctant to call it tax reform. It’s a good start,” Ramsey said. “We’ve got a lot more to do. I think every year we’re going to chip away at it,” he said. But “I think a massive overhaul of our tax system is probably not going to be doable.”
Smith also spoke about the transportation issues. Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller “struggled with transportation,” Smith said. So did Gov. Roy Barnes. “He thought, ‘I’m going to tackle this monster,’” Smith said. Barnes did put in place the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue worked on transportation, as well. TSPLOST is the result.
There’s also the economy. “Jobs are always foremost. The government doesn’t create jobs. It creates the environment for jobs,” Smith said. “It’s not about getting jobs for someone you know, it’s about creating the right environment.”
Von Epps said that, when it comes to these issues, a major factor is, “Who is calling the shots?”
“I’ve learned over the years — local people have more consciousness about what should be done and how it should be done,” Von Epps said. “I’m a strong proponent of local control. I think the locals should maintain some sense of ownership and pride of what they are going to try to accomplish. They better understand their constituents than the federal government or the state,” he said.
Transportation is crucial, he said. “There are some great projects on the list” for TSPLOST, he said. But “I’m not very optimistic about the passage in most of the regions.”
“I’m just hopeful that, if not this year, then next year we address those issues,” he said. Transportation and education “are the engines that help drive economic development in the various regions,” Von Epps said.
Fayette County is in the Atlanta Region for TSPLOST. Ramsey was asked if he is encouraging his constituents to vote for it.
“I’m encouraging them to take a real close look at the project list,” Ramsey said. “First, take the time to understand the needs of the region, its impact on our future economic vitality. Take a hard look at the project list,” Ramsey said. “Get educated. Try to reach a conclusion on your own based on the facts, not on the hysterical rhetoric that is out there right now,” Ramsey said. “Make an educated decision based on facts and not the overheated political rhetoric, which is in very, very ample supply right now.”
McEntire asked the legislators about the denial of a certificate of need for a Health South rehabilitation hospital that wants to locate in Coweta.
“I have no idea what role y’all can play,” McEntire said. “It is very important to us in the community to take advantage of them wanting to come here and add jobs,” he said.
An appeal hearing was held and there should be a ruling by mid-September, said Skin Edge, who represents Health South. Then the issue will go to the commissioner of the Department of Community Health, he said. But nothing can happen until the judge rules. “We feel like the hearing went well,” Edge said.
Crane said he’s read the denial notice. “It is really kind of nonsensical,” he said of the certificate of need process.
“Right now, it is not appropriate to talk to attorneys or anybody” in the legal process, said Smith. “That is not our role.”
The legislators were also asked about the impact of the Affordable Care Act/Obama Care, and whether the state is going to set up an insurance exchange.
“The governor has stated he wants to wait until after November,” Smith said. “It’s no secret that a lot of folks feel like that needs to be repealed” and other approaches taken.
Local businessman and Chamber member Steve Mader asked if Obamacare can be repealed if Mitt Romney becomes president.
“I don’t think we’re going to get that repealed, the way the Senate is set up,” Ramsey said.