Monday night, Spencer joined Representatives Regina Quick and Chuck Williams and Senators Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn at Cine for the Federation of Neighborhoods’ Legislative Review. Each of the legislators was given an opportunity to provide an opening statement summarizing their activities during session. The legislative panel then engaged in a Q&A with attendees on a variety of issues. Finally, the attendees were given the opportunity to make suggestions and raise issues to the legislative panel during the final part of the program.
Spencer began by noting that summer is the best time to get in touch with your legislator (more on that below) as the offseason is less busy and preparation for the next session takes place largely during the summer break. Spencer then described how he approached one of the most contracted legislative sessions in recent memory.
“People ask what it’s like to work in the legislature, and I tell them its like working on a job site… I get up there and I make my list of all the things that I want to get done and get all my materials together. Then I go out on the job site, take the list and crumple it up, throw it over my shoulder and get to work. You just never know what you’re going to get.”
Spencer described the disappointment in not getting the question of medical marijuana resolved, and noted that his litmus test when it came to legislation was determining what the legislature could do to make people’s lives better.
One such bill that met that litmus test and impacts Athens Clarke County was House Bill 697 authored by Representative Stacey Evans. The legislation establishes the Zell Miller Grant Scholar which awards full tuition scholarships to Georgia Technical College students earning a cumulative 3.5 GPA. He highlighted some of the challenges that non-traditional students face when they balance their education with a job, children, or other commitments that students who attend college shortly after high school don’t typically encounter.
Spencer later described his work in passage of House Bill 750, legislation allowing non-profit organizations that promote access to affordable housing to be exempt from the requirement of getting a state license to offer low-interest mortgages.
Each legislator was given the opportunity to make an opening statement. Representative Williams described the work the legislature did regarding study committees on land preservation, graduate medical education, and wrongful convictions. Representative Quick described her work on local legislation regarding the Downtown Development Authority and said her attention was turning towards the charters for the Classic Center Authority and the Hospital Authority to gain full understanding of the responsibilities of those organizations. Senator Ginn described the mobile broadband legislation, the watershed protection bill, and increases in penalties for those convicted of home invasion. Finally, Senator Cowsert described his role in his committees and noted that the higher education formula was fully funded and included $10 million extra to attract top professors to teach in Georgia universities.
Audience members provided questions for the panel on a variety of issues. Two of the issues that stood out dealt with amending local legislation to allow localities to set minimum wages and enter into new T-SPLOST arrangements to fund local transportation infrastructure. Final issues raised with the legislative panel included finding solutions to gerrymandered election districts in Athens-Clarke County and addressing Board of Regents policy that prohibits undocumented students from attending some state universities.
If you missed the forum or just want to hear it again, you can check out the full recording here. Hat tip to former Athens Mayoral candidate Tim Denson and his team at Athens for Everyone for providing the recording.
We wanted to close where Spencer began by saying that the legislative offseason is the best time to engage with Spencer and his team as we are busily looking for ways the legislature can improve the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors in Athens and across the state. To increase accessibility, we are launching a new email connected to Capitol Corner that will allow you to provide immediate feedback on our posts, ask questions, and give us ideas for our coverage. You’ll find the option to contact us at the end of each post. Also, stay tuned later this week for more exciting news from the blog as we embark on new projects throughout the summer.