Tomorrow marks the beginning of the second year in my first session as your Representative, and I am incredibly excited and honored to get back to work. Throughout the first year, we learned a great deal about the legislature and the policies that impact your family and improve our state. We cleared legal barriers for a grocery store in downtown Athens so that families living near downtown would have easy access to healthy foods. We exempted school districts from fuel taxes to help their budgets and authorized schools to stock “EpiPens” to treat rapid allergic reactions. Finally, we supported legislation to lower the GPA requirement for HOPE Grant Scholarships and improve the oversight on tax breaks in Georgia. All of these things represented a great start to moving Georgia forward, but our work is far from done.
As we head into session tomorrow, I wanted to share my thoughts with you on three foundations for our future that should guide our decision making in this legislative session. The first foundation is universal access to quality education and support for our teachers and bshinholseristrators who make that possible. The second foundation is meeting the challenges of improving our health care system to ensure long, healthy lives for our loved ones. The third foundation is the protection of our environmental resources to strengthen our economy and preserve some of our best spots for recreation in Georgia.
Education has long been one of the most important issues we deal with in the legislature. Over half our budget is spent to support public education in Georgia, and education serves as our strongest indicator of future economic and social prosperity. Despite the attention and the funds, there are still challenges we face in our education system. Budget cuts have weakened access in our Pre-K program and our HOPE and HOPE Grant programs. Cuts have also made the job of our teachers more difficult with furlough days and diminishing resources in our schools. Our legislature must strive to support our hard-working teachers by giving them the resources and flexibility needed to do their jobs effectively. We must also remember that if we live up to our end of the bargain, our teachers will excel. Giving teachers this trust helps build a strong foundation for economic growth and supports the students who will be leaders in Georgia businesses, non-profits and public life after we are gone. I will take very seriously my responsibility to support our educators and students during the upcoming session.
The last two years have proven to be a time of big changes in health care, but with these changes comes great opportunity. The Affordable Care Act has brought many important questions to the desks of Georgia’s leaders including the opportunity to expand access to health care for low- and middle-income families and begin a long overdue discussion on health costs and quality. An aging population and rising costs put pressure on our state and local budgets, but more importantly, they challenge us to come up with solutions to ensure that our family, friends and neighbors live long, healthy lives. An election year should bring a sense of urgency to bring new ideas to our constituents in November and not create an incentive for political grandstanding. When we look for solutions, we should look at some of the stronger health systems in our state. I’m lucky to have a great system in my district in Athens Regional Medical Center (and even more lucky to be married to one of their best nurses!). Looking at the quality of care delivered at ARMC should inform us in strengthening the quality of care delivered in our many rural health systems like Flint River Hospital (who had to close their Emergency Room last year) and our large urban systems like Grady Memorial. I look forward to building on this discussion and meeting these challenges in 2014.
The third foundation of our future is a healthy environment to leave to our children and ensure the prosperity of Georgia for many generations beyond our own. A recent chemical spill in West Virginia serves as a reminder that one of our scarcest environmental resources is water. When negotiating water use agreements with our neighboring states or addressing the issues regarding pollution in our rivers, we must take the issues of environmental protection seriously and provide the resources needed to meet our goals. Like the other two foundations, our environment is more than just an economic issue; it is a personal one. Our lakes and rivers across the state are some of Georgia’s best places for recreation like fishing and boating. When I’m free on the weekends, I’m always out on the water with my two kids, Spence and Ruby. I want our rivers and lake to be there for my grandkids and great grandkids too.
These three foundations for the future will serve as a guide for me and my staff as we consider issues before us in 2014, but we can’t be successful without you. I hope that you will follow the developments throughout session and reach out to me if you have comments or ideas to make Athens and Georgia an even better place to live and work. You can do that through this blog or by connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter. I thank you again for this humbling opportunity and look forward to working with you in 2014 and beyond. God Bless.
Representative Spencer Frye