State Representative Al Williams talked about a variety of topics from the last legislative session at last Thursday’s Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues breakfast. The event was held in-person at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center and virtually via Zoom.
Williams opened the conversation saying the residents of Liberty County are throwing money out the window by failing to respond to the 2020 Census.
He thanked Krystal Hart for the work she has done as the Census Coordinator in the county but added certain areas like Walthourville and Allenhurst have poor response numbers. He said times are tough, but people need to do their part and fill out their Census forms.
“We’ve never had, not in one hundred years, a pandemic during a Census year,” he said. “It is not easy. But it is so important because it is a $3,600 loss for everybody that does not get counted. And it doesn’t take long for that to add up.”
Williams spoke about the plight of Georgia’s rural hospitals and how 600 million dollars were lost because the state disaster tax was not passed.
“We are closing hospitals,” he said. “We should have passed it and designated some of those funds first to rural hospitals.”
Williams was disappointed that the casino and gambling referendum was voted down. He said, if passed, it could have brought in more than 500-600 million a year in revenue. He said Liberty County was considered a viable spot for a casino.
“Now I know it’s controversial,” he said. “I don’t gamble and don’t plan on starting. If you don’t drink liquor don’t go to the liquor store. If you don’t gamble stay out of the casino. But why should you keep letting states around us to keep getting all these revenues? I went to Mississippi in early February and it was absolutely amazing how many tours buses came from Atlanta.”
He said Liberty County would have benefitted from the referendum which would have created 2,000 permanent jobs in the county with an average income of $42,000 per year. He added it would have reduced local property taxes by 20-30 percent withing five years.
He said legislators voted in favor of House Bill 793 because the state of Georgia’s Education system could not afford to take a one billion dollar cut.
But Williams said other programs did take significant cuts including 22 million that was cut in child and adolescent health care.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a lot when it is underfunded already,” he said. “It’s a 31 percent cut in state funding. It took a big hit.”
He said the state cut funding for forestry protection by 2.4 million.
Williams said the passage of Georgia’s Hate Crime Bill was long overdue and was pleased it passed unanimously.
“It was needed,” he said.
Williams also recalled the friendship he developed with Civil Rights icon John Lewis who was laid to rest last week. Williams is sponsoring a bill to replace the statue of Alexander Stephens with one of Rep. Lewis in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Stephens served as vice president of the Confederacy and later as Georgia governor. Georgia gave the Stephens statue to the national collection in 1927. Williams said the change would be a fitting tribute to John Lewis. And Stephens’ family has pledged support to the change.
Williams spoke for several minutes about the COVID-19 pandemic begging folks to take the virus serious.
“People are dying,” he said. “More than 150,000 today.”
He advocated for the use of masks to curve the increase in cases and said it should be mandated.
“I don’t care what your political persuasion is,” Williams said. “This is about life and death. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. Let’s do what is good for everybody.”
He said he was discouraged about the lack of protection being provided to healthcare workers that are administering COVID-19 tests at drive-thru locations in Liberty County. During a recent trip to Hinesville Williams said he came across a long line of cars at a testing site.
“Not one police officer,” he said. “Not one nowhere. You had to fend for yourself in an obviously dangerous situation. Not one policeman here with hundreds of people lined up who ended up threatening the healthcare provider with bodily harm. So, in the interest of safety they called off testing. So, we went from 150 people a day being tested to a trickle because we didn’t do our job. We can provide police protection to a basketball or football game. But we can’t provide it during testing to keep from dying.”
Finally, Williams urged folks to heed the advice of Scientist and medical professionals and stop following the advice of charlatans.