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Legislature approaches end of session

Posted: March 17, 2012 - 11:00pm

Two men struggled to pedal a twin-seat bicycle up a steep hill. When they finally reached the top, the lead rider exclaimed, “Whew! I wasn’t sure we were going to make it!” “Yeah,” replied the other, “if I hadn’t been standing on the brake the whole way we might have rolled back down.”

A legislative session during an election year can seem an awful lot like the experience of those cyclists. Despite the natural “brake” on activity that even-numbered years often bring, we can still point to forward movement on a number of issues.

While the session has not yet ended, the House has passed the governor’s jobs-incentive bill, which expands the range of firms eligible for tax credits tied to new jobs, reduces burdensome regulations and maintains a proper balance between promoting employment and preserving a sound tax structure.

The governor’s criminal justice reform bill, which is still being debated, includes a provision to eliminate the statute of limitations for child molestation. I originally introduced this legislation three years ago; unfortunately, it took the terrible tragedy at Penn State to bring this issue to the forefront. Now those who have had their innocence torn from them can seek justice when the time is right for them, and those who commit such crimes know that, sooner or later, they will be hunted down and held accountable for their heinous actions.

The debate continues on the question of authorizing charter schools as an alternative to our existing public school system. While there is no doubt that improvement is sorely needed statewide, I am not convinced that the proposed charter school legislation is the best way to accomplish that goal.

I have two primary objections: the first is the issue of local control. The proposed charter school act would create yet another layer of government in Atlanta that would make decisions for school systems across the state, but it would not be accountable to the communities impacted by its decisions. Under the current system, our parents, teachers, and school administrators must all work together in a local system to decide what is best for their own community. I, for one, am unwilling to trade those relationships in exchange for a nameless, faceless board of bureaucrats far removed from local perspectives.

The second issue has to do with funding. While we can do much to eliminate waste and mismanagement from our existing education budget, the truth remains that public education in Georgia has suffered from severe budget cuts over the past several years. Funding for public schools is currently at the same level as fiscal 2010, and the creation of charter schools would drain much-needed funds away from an already strapped education system. Charter schools are no doubt a good option in certain circumstances, but a one-size-fits-all approach will just not work.

Finally, Columbia County voters will be able to vote in a referendum this year on the question of term limits for county commissioners. This proposal, which is supported by the Columbia County Commission, would keep “fresh blood” coming into local government, and encourage wider participation among our citizens.

As always, it is an honor to represent Columbia County in the Georgia General Assembly. I welcome your input, and look forward to hearing from you.

(State Rep. Ben Harbin represents Columbia County’s 113th House District in the Georgia Legislature.)

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