State Rep. Smith talks shop at Kiwanis meeting
by Wes Mayer
State Representative Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Coweta County Thursday and gave some insight on what it is like being in her shoes.
Smith is the representative for District 70, which covers most of Coweta County, Newnan, and Whitesburg in Carroll County. She was elected to her office in 1997, and she is now greatly involved as the chairman of the state House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. She is also a member of the Appropriations Committee in the General Government Subcommittee, a member of the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, and a member of the Rules Committee.
At the Kiwanis meeting held at Newnan Country Club, Smith spoke about her experience working as a teacher in Newnan, helping lead the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce, becoming involved in many other local organizations, and then running for and being elected into the Georgia House of Representatives.
She said she didn’t realize how polarizing it would be.
“What you think is going to happen, never happens,” Smith said. “Things are never what they seem.”
Smith talked about how the representatives only meet on the house floor for 40 days out of the year – a time period they refer to as 40 days and 80 nights because there is so much compressed into a short time. There are 180 members in the House, and most are from urban districts. Whenever any legislation is passed in the House, it feels like landing a big fish, she said.
When they are not debating on the floor, though, the representatives spend their time working in and learning about their committees, Smith said.
As chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, Smith talked about some of the efforts she is involved in throughout the year. One of the largest was working to calculate the land acreage of Jekyll Island, which was a complicated process, and determine how much of the island can be opened to development and how much can remain a protected state park.
Other topics included analyzing the Departments of Family and Child Services across Georgia, which are having issues statewide, she said. And also how the new federal health plan, the Affordable Care Act, has become a game changer on how health care is going to be delivered.
She said before the floor debates, she was expecting to discuss these topics – she never thought they would end up debating on medical marijuana, autism and the Common Core educational standards and the privatization of foster care.
One of the biggest things the representatives pass each year is the state’s budget, Smith said. As a member of the appropriations committee, she is involved in the passing of the annual budget, which is $20.8 billion this year. Of this, 54.1 percent is allocated to education, 23.5 percent is allocated to health and human services, 8.4 percent is allocated to public safety, and the remaining 14 percent is allocated to all other remaining state agencies, Smith said.
The House tries to allocate as much of the budget as they can back to local school programs, she said, but there is a great deal of balancing involved in the budget. It unfortunately always involves taking money from somewhere and putting i t somewhere else, and it involves making many tough decisions.
She also spoke briefly about a few of the bills she considered “quieter” but no less important. These included a couple of 911-related bills – one to establish how distressed 911 callers may be protected from potential public abuse by placing restrictions on the 911 recordings, and another to grant 911 callers medical amnesty. This would give a caller who may be experiencing a drug overdose more motivation to call 911 because they won’t face prosecution for possessing drugs.
Another allowed parents to freeze their child’s credit cards. Smith said many parents often get their child’s Social Security number, and identity thieves are now preying on these numbers and opening fraudulent accounts in the child’s name without the parents ever knowing.
“It is a new lifestyle,” Smith said. “We are all having to learn to be more alert, and how to be savvier in how we manage our lives.”
Smith concluded her talk by saying how proud she is to be from Coweta County. She said Coweta has an excellent model educational system, and she brags about the county every chance she gets.