By Barry L. Paschal
Columbia County Bureau
Before Columbia County’s legislative delegation could get to work Monday morning, they had to set a few ground rules.
That applied especially to one of the new members of the delegation, State Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton.
“I’ve been (in the Georgia Legislature) for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve been in a delegation,” said McCall, whose previous district layout made him the sole representative in his counties.
Columbia County’s six-member delegation, which also now includes state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, re-elected state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, as chairman and newly elected state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, as secretary.
Even though he hasn’t worked with a county delegation before, however, McCall gave other members a cue for dealing with local issues from the counties that make up the lawmakers’ districts.
When handling any local legislation, brought by county commissioners or city councils, he requires those bodies to first vote unanimously on the issue, he said.
“If they can’t convince four people, how are we going to convince 91 (a House majority)?” McCall asked.
The rest of the delegation agreed, and intend to file such rules with the House and Senate. The state’s legislative session begins Jan. 14. The other members of the delegation are state Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, and state Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.
Columbia County commissioners had no dissent in issues they brought to the delegation, including asking the lawmakers to avoid sending unfunded mandates to local counties and looking out for the county in cases where health care providers seek certificates of need for new facilities.
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross also scolded the Legislature for looting funds from dedicated sources, such as the state’s Solid Waste Trust Fund that is supposed to pay for tire-dump cleanup, but instead goes into the general fund.
“It looks bad,” Cross said. “It’s almost morally corrupt to say you’re going to do one thing and then go and do something completely different.”
While lawmakers seemed to agree, they also cited tough budgets as the reason for skimming money from such dedicated funds.
“Nobody likes doing it,” Harbin said. “It’ a matter of the reality of where we are. We can’t print money, and we’re not going to raise taxes.”
Reach Barry L. Paschal at (706) 868-1222, ext. 106, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.