What significant legislation would you propose to create a stronger economic environment in Baldwin County?
For Baldwin County to have a more secure future we have to attract more private sector jobs. Many of the tools necessary for Baldwin County to create a stronger economic environment are in place. We have three post secondary education institutions, Georgia College, GMC, and Central Georgia Tech. Our local Board of Education won a grant for a Career Academy and has recently put that program into operation. We have numerous tax incentives that we are able to offer a new or expanding business and we have several available buildings ready for occupancy. Georgia as a state is one of the 10 best states in the nation to locate a business and the legislature just this year created even more incentives for manufacturers by eliminating the sales tax used for energy in manufacturing. We don't need more legislation, we just need to work together as a community and promote our assets at every opportunity. The entire City Council and County Commission need to be 100 percent committed to working together for the benefit of the community and quit the infighting both within the groups and between them. They need to support the Economic Development Authority by both appointing energetic community promoters to the Authority and then allocate the funds necessary to promote Milledgeville and Baldwin County to prospective industries. The Development Authority needs to help the new Executive Director by developing an action plan that includes a promotion component and then petitioning the City and County to properly fund that plan and the personnel necessary to implement it. We can turn this community around if we work together, but it won't be easy, it won't be quick, and it will take the coordination of everyone that is in a leadership position.
What do you think is the most significant legislation with local impact you voted for or against in the last legislative session. Please detail.
The most significant legislation with local impact that I voted for this year was the FY2013 Appropriations Act. In addition to the ongoing operational funds for Georgia College, Central Georgia Technical College, GMC, the Georgia War Veterans Home, Georgia Veterans Cemetery, Baldwin State Prison, Central State Hospital, and the state portion of education funding for the Board of Education which collectively totals in the 100s of millions of dollars each year, we were able to secure $9.6 million for the Ennis Hall renovation at GCSU, $7 million for the new Wellness Center at GMC, and over $20 million in full year funding for the new GEO private prison.
Please explain your work toward the re-development of Central State Hospital.
In past years I worked with former GCSU President Dorothy Leland to help hone the concept of a Center for Rural Healthcare on the campus of CSH and help her to begin to develop supporters and partners for the concept throughout the state. In the past year with the arrival of Milledgeville City Planner Mike Couch, I have worked closely with him and other city leaders to develop the concept of the CSH Local Redevelopment Authority. I have set up numerous meetings with the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the State Properties Officer, the Commissioner of Behavioral Health, and the Chancellor of the University system for the purposed of securing their support. I have also attended meetings with several congressmen and their staff to help brief them on the project. Working with Representative Rusty Kidd we were able to get legislation passed this year and signed by Governor Deal that formalizes the CSH Local Redevelopment Authority which will begin meeting in the very near future.
In addition I have been working with Brian Owens, Commissioner of Corrections, to develop the concept of a special purpose privately operated nursing home that would be able to accept elderly and medically fragile prisoners who could be eligible for parole but who currently don't meet parole guidelines because they don't have a place that they could be released into. The former Bostick Prison has been identified as a site that could be modified for this purpose and would generate approximately 300 jobs.
Why were CSH employees and local health care leaders surprise to hear of the closing at CSH and was there an effective and timely contingency plan put in place for CSH's closure by the local delegation in Atlanta?
The most recent closure of the Developmental Disability program at Central State Hospital was put into motion in 1999 with the US Supreme Court Olmstead decision. Olmstead required states to create plans that would move people with mental disabilities from institutional settings into less restrictive community placement. In 2007 the US Department of Justice began an investigation into alleged violations by the State of Georgia of the Americans with Disabilities Act and unnecessary delay in implementation of Olmstead. A 2008 agreement and a subsequent agreement in October of 2010 sped up the process of deinstitutionalization and placed a June 30, 2015 date of complete compliance with Olmstead. CSH personnel were aware of this general timeline, but no one outside of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD) and his immediate staff were notified of any timeline for a specific hospital. Representative Kidd and I both reached out to the Commissioner of BHDD and pressed for a delay in further downsizing at CSH to allow the community time to begin healing. For a while we both thought that he might accommodate us, but ultimately he did not grant our request and we were both notified about the closure of the DD program at CSH just hours before the decision was made public. As legislators we do not handle the day to day operations of any department. We pass laws that broadly govern the various agencies and those agencies further refine those laws with rules and regulations. The Commissioner of each agency is then responsible for the implementation of those rules and regulations. Minimum levels of notification and planning were met by the Department of BHDD, but I was not pleased with the way the closure was handled.
What can you do moving forward as a senator to preserve the current assets at Plant Branch to prevent job losses and closures?
The immediate focus that all of us should share if we truly want to save Plant Harley Branch is to work hard to elect Mitt Romney as President so we have a chance of rolling back recent federal EPA regulations that severely restrict the use of coal as a fuel source for the generation of electricity. Even though Congress refused to adopt these overly stringent regulations, President Obama instructed the EPA to move to effectively eliminate coal as a fuel source by administrative fiat. If these regulations stand, it will be prohibitively expensive for Georgia Power to make adaptations to this 40-plus-year-old facility so it could continue to use coal as a fuel. Alternative fuel sources have been proposed and I will continue to work with Georgia Power officials to see if any other options are feasible.