State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, talked about everything from broadband to deputy pay raises to AR-15s at a breakfast Tuesday.
Williams spoke at the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
The event was sponsored by Hagray Communications. Williams said increasing broadband access in rural communities is something legislators are trying to tackle.
“There are many school systems that do not have access to broadband and without broadband you are out of the game,” Williams said. “We’ve had several solutions put on the table. And as with several solutions it has created a lot of controversy.”
Williams noted that Georgia Power and the local electrical cooperatives have yet to hammer out their differences in delivery methods, which has hampered progress.
Williams said there was no new bill, but a lot of discussion at the state level regarding gun control measures. He said the groups were still heavily divided.
“There is one side that thinks if you are old enough to pick up a gun then you should own one,” he said. “Then there is the other side that feels like nobody should have one. I am in the middle on this because I think that folks should have the right to bear arms. That is a right that has been around forever and that right should not be taken away. But I do have a problem with any citizen being able to purchase an AR-15. I haven’t seen a deer yet that needs an AR-15 to take it down. AR-15’s are designed to hurt people.”
Williams, who is a Vietnamseen a deer yet that needs an AR-15 to take it down. AR-15’s are designed to hurt people.” Williams, who is a Vietnam veteran, said legislators need to address qualifications for gun ownership.
“We have to take a realistic look at what you can purchase and who can purchase. We need to tighten up on who can buy a gun,” he said.
Williams said he was disappointed that a bill to institute a sales tax to pay for raises to county deputies, SB 254, failed this session. The bill addressed the salaries of deputies across the state seeking equal pay to state law enforcement officers.
Local sheriffs supported the bill as a way to keep pace with a 20 percent pay increase given to state officers in September by Governor Nathan Deal.
Law enforcement agencies banded together to push the bill, saying they are losing skilled officers or having a hard time recruiting new officers due to the pay difference.
“It never got legs under it,” Williams said of the bill. “But you can’t go home and tell the deputy sheriffs what a great job you did…they can’t take that to the bank. They are seriously underpaid and we are going to go back at it next year. We have jailers in Macon County, Georgia, that make $15,600 a year. And we have some deputy sheriff’s that make $10 an hour while putting their lives on the line. Ninety-five percent of the arrests made in Georgia are made by the sheriff’s department. We are going to get that done.”
Williams said the state’s quality of basic education fund was completely funded this year, giving schools an additional $166 million, of which Liberty County will get $961,000, to benefit programs for grades K-12. He said legislators passed a $26.6 billion budget and also passed the hands free cell phone bill which will become effective as soon as Deal signs it.
Williams said he was happy to sponsor and help pass Georgia House Bill 739, which allows military spouses who are certified educators in the elementary and post-secondary education to immediately gain employment while their licenses are being transferred from one location to another.
He said the legislature passed HB 245 last year which did the same for military personnel.
The senate also passed HB 843 relating to tax credits for business enterprises in less developed areas to include any census tract that contains a federal military installation and an industrial park that is owned and operated by a governmental entity.
“This benefits us directly,” he said.
Williams said the state also streamlined the adoption process. He said the measure failed to pass last year because of language included in the bill that strictly prohibited those in the LGBQ community from adopting.
While the new law no longer contains that wording, Senate Bill 375 allows a child-placing agency to decline to accept a referral from the department and decline to perform services not referred under a contract with the department based on the child-placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Williams said getting kids adopted and out of foster care is important. He added the changes to the law were the first changes in decades.
“We grew up in a different era,” he said. “And we have to be very careful to be so resistive of change.”
According to Williams Georgia is on the top 20 list in getting Amazon’s second headquarters. He said it has the potential of adding 50,000 jobs to the state. He noted the state is reviewing election procedures and whether to move to paper ballots to reduce electronic voter fraud.