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Dougherty delegation gives highlights of General Assembly session

District 12 Senator Freddie Powell-Sims, right, speaks with Lee County Chamber CEO Winston Oxford and Lee County Commission Director of Planning and Engineering Bob Alexander at the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Wrap-up luncheon.

District 12 Senator Freddie Powell-Sims, right, speaks with Lee County Chamber CEO Winston Oxford and Lee County Commission Director of Planning and Engineering Bob Alexander at the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Wrap-up luncheon.

— Despite some political disagreements and grumbles, the state delegation from the Albany area worked together better this session "than ever before," one state representative said.

State Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg and Senator Freddie Powell-Sims, D-Dawson, each gave a recap of the 2012 Legislative Session to members of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Affairs Committee Thursday.

Two bills of particular local importance dealt with the reduction of the sales tax on energy that manufacturers pay -- a big deal for Proctor and Gamble, whose Albany plant is the second-largest consumer of electricity in the state -- and an exemption to taxes paid on agricultural aircraft -- a move that benefits local crop-duster manufacturer Thrush.

Dukes, the senior member of the delegation, said that the delegation worked more closely together in 2012 "than ever before."

This year, the General Assembly passed a $19.3 billion budget that is up by 4.5 percent from last year.

The budget includes more funding for education and the criminal justice system, Sims said.

One of the more controversial moments in the session happened on the body's last day when legislators approved a House bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks for almost all reasons prompting many of the women in the capitol -- including Sims and State Rep. Carol Fullerton, to walk out of the building in protest.

Dukes talked about bills ranging from one that will eliminate the so-called "birthday tax" on vehicles that consumers pay each year on their birthday for a one-time, 6-7 percent title fee on new or used car purchases, to a bill that creates drug and mental health courts with the purpose of free-ing up beds in the state's prison system for violent offenders.

Rynders, who was district no longer includes Dougherty County following redistricting, talked about the challenge of developing a budget in the state's current financial climate.

"A phrase I've never heard in the capitol is 'Thank you I'm fully funded,' Rynders said.

Rynders thanked fellow representatives Jay Powell R-Camilla, and Penny Houston, R-Nashville, for helping to keep South Georgia on the map for state appropriations, given that he and the two are the only three representatives on a seven-person budget committee from southern Georgia.

Rynders also gave credit to Dukes for authoring the bill that will help Thrush compete with a similar manufacturer in Texas.

Fullerton was slated to be at the event but had to decline to be with her daughter-in-law who graduated from medical school.

Katrina Baranko, the head of the chamber's Legislative Affairs Committee said its important to keep a close working relationship with state leaders so that the interests of businesses are heard.

"I think its important for businesses in the community to be involved with what's going on at the state level. They're dealing with legislation that will effect us, our businesses and they don't always know what's going on in our communities so it's important for us to tell them and remind them what is important for us," Baranko said.