Georgia State Representative Bill Werkheiser, who represents the counties of Tattnall, Wayne, and Evans, briefed Glennville Rotarians on the state's finances and vital pieces of legislation at their September 14, 2022, meeting.
The Speaker of the House recently appointed Representative Werkheiser and three other House members to the House Study Committee on State and Local Law Enforcement Salaries. They will meet around the State, listening to subject matter experts and writing a report at the end, suggesting solutions to the General Assembly.
"Even though our state's sheriffs are constitutional officers with salaries set by the state, the salaries of rural deputies are severely lagging and one of the reasons there is such a shortage of officers," Werkheiser said. "These jobs are incredibly dangerous as evidenced just last week when two Cobb county deputies were shot to death while serving a warrant."
He commented that even though the state had taken a hit initially financially when COVID hit, the state has rebounded with a six billion dollar surplus today, with refunds already sent to Georgians and more to come.
"One of our greatest achievements this past session was the Mental Health Parity Act, which expands access to behavioral mental health services in Georgia. This includes $148.9 million to bolster funding for mental health counselors and law enforcement," he said. "In all industries, there is a shortage of workers, and this is one reason our unemployment is just above three percent. The Concealed Carry legislation took up a lot of time and garnered a lot of publicity, but it really only eliminated the need to go to the courthouse and get a card to carry the weapon, and saved folks the $75 license fee every five years. It does not eliminate the need for a background check when purchasing a gun. Because of this and the reciprocity between many states, I would suggest getting the permit.
"Redistricting caused us to lose two rural legislators due to losing approximately 150,000 people in Southwest Georgia. This is important, because this dilutes the power of rural legislators. Many of our battles are rural versus metro at the Capitol and not so much Republicans versus Democrats," he said. “The number each Representative and Senator are assigned to a district have to total within one percent of the population of each District. My district went from 54,000 people to 60,000, causing me to lose a portion of Wayne County but pick up all of Jeff Davis and half of Appling County. The district size of a State Senator is approximately 180,000… The four education bills that were passed did not affect our area, as it did in the metro part of the state.
“The Medical Cannabis legislation, which would have jump-started the growing of medical cannabis, failed to pass by one vote. Because of this, the Governor appointed a new Commissioner, which set in motion a process to, hopefully, allow growers to begin production. Botanical Sciences, located in Glennville, scored the highest among the 69 applicants,” Werkheiser said.
"Sports betting and casinos did not pass, but we are losing $20 million to $30 million a year in taxes by not legalizing and regulating online sports betting, which would allow the State to collect these taxes that are going to other States," Werkheiser said.
He stated that he is against any type of legislation that would allow casinos to operate in Georgia.
He added that the Hyundai plant to be built in Bryan County will affect this area, especially Claxton, who is already beginning to prepare for the need for housing.