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Expanding broadband important for rural Georgia

This week under the Gold Dome there was much activity as bills that still have the possibility of becoming law had to pass the House or Senate by what we refer to as Crossover Day when they are sent to the other chamber for consideration. After a bill passes one chamber, it essentially starts over by being assigned to committee in the other chamber where it is heard and vetted almost as if it were new legislation. There were a wide variety of bills that passed the House and now I look forward to working with my House colleagues as we consider bills that have been sent over from the Senate.

One bill that received final passage this week was HB 918. I had written last week that the House had passed this significant tax cut legislation and sent it to the Senate for their consideration. While the House version  also had a provision to provide a tax exemption for jet fuel purchased in Georgia, after Delta’s dust-up with the NRA, the Senate removed the jet fuel exemption. (The exemption was for all jet fuel, but Delta was by far the largest beneficiary.) After much political fanfare in the Senate, the House agreed to the Senate’s proposal so that the major tax cut for Georgia taxpayers would not get lost in the political gamesmanship. Starting Jan. 1, 2018, this tax year, the standard deduction will double for individuals to $4,600 for single persons and $6,000 for married couples filing jointly. In tax year 2019, the top individual income tax rate and the corporate tax rate decrease from 6% to 5.75%. Furthermore, in tax year 2020, the legislature must vote to affirm the lowering of the top personal income and corporate tax rates to 5.50%. These changes expire when the federal tax cuts conclude on Dec. 31, 2025. I’m glad that we were able to come to an agreement to get this important piece of legislation passed and on to the governor for his signature.

Georgia’s economy has tremendously grown in recent years, but not all parts of the state have experienced the same level of economic success. For that reason, the House created the House Rural Development Council last session, and this session, we have prioritized legislation based on the council’s recommendations. This week we passed several important measures to benefit our rural communities and help rural Georgia prosper, such as House Bill 951, which passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. HB 951 would create the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation (CRPI) to serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices, including community planning models, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with nonprofits, religious organizations and other higher education partners. The CRPI would be located within a college or institution of the University System of Georgia that awards bachelor of science degrees in rural community development, and the president of the college or institution would appoint a center director to be approved by a majority vote of the Georgia Rural Development Council. The 12-member Georgia Rural Development Council would offer guidance to the CRPI, as well as study the conditions, needs, issues and problems affecting rural economic development, education, unemployment and infrastructure. This center would serve as a rural think tank, and with help from the deputy commissioner for rural Georgia, the CRPI would bring valuable resources together to come up with meaningful solutions to the challenges rural Georgia faces.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, the House passed another bipartisan, rural-friendly bill that implements several recommendations from the House Rural Development Council. House Bill 887 seeks to expand broadband and other communications services throughout the state. The bill would establish the Local Government Communication Services Fair Competition Act of 2018 to encompass all communication services, not just cable service.  HB 887 would allow communities to apply to be certified as broadband ready through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA). In an effort to provide broadband infrastructure expenditure assistance that enables coverage throughout the entire state, HB 887 would also require GEMA’s director to develop a grant program that would award projects to qualified broadband providers who request the least amount of money to expand in unserved areas. Furthermore, this measure would authorize GEMA to create a broadband availability map of the state showing unserved areas and publish the map on GEMA’s website. Finally, HB 887 would regulate an authority’s pole attachment rate. Rural Georgia depends on broadband access to thrive, and this measure aims to increase access to this critical utility to all corners of the state.

As the legislative session continues please continue to keep in touch with me regarding your questions and concerns. I can be reached at (404) 656-5146 or by email at randy.nix@house.ga.gov. 

Thank you for placing your trust in me as I represent you in the State House.

Randy Nix represents Troup Co. in the Georgia House of Representatives.