The lack of high speed Internet access in areas outside metropolitan Atlanta dominated discussion at a meeting of Oconee County’s legislative delegation with local government officials late last year.
“We’re committed on the Senate side for sure to try to increase access to high speed Internet throughout Georgia,” said Bill Cowsert, who represents the 46th Senate District, which includes Oconee County.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell and Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch agreed.
Branch said he knew of examples of students going to fast food restaurants or other commercial outlets in the county with public Internet access to be able to do their homework.
Preview Of 2018 Session
The session, held on Dec. 22 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville, was organized by BOC Chair Daniell to give local officials a chance to hear from and offer suggestions to the county’s three legislators.
Cowsert, Deborah Gonzalez from House District 117 and Jonathan Wallace from House District 119 joined all five members of the Board of Commissioners as well as Board of Education Chair Tom Odom and BOE member Kim Argo in the hour-long session.
The meeting is an annual event, but it was different this year because Gonzalez and Wallace, who were chosen in special elections in November, participated in their first session of the General Assembly only on Jan. 8.
Both Gonzalez and Wallace are Democrats, while Cowsert is a Republican.
Last year, Cowsert was joined in the legislative preview session by fellow Republicans Regina Quick from the 117th House District and Chuck William from the 119th House District.
Quick and Williams resigned late last year, setting up the special elections.
Party Not An Issue
Gonzalez and Wallace made no mention of their party labels, and Cowsert, who is Majority Leader of the Senate, mentioned his party only in passing.
Cowsert did most of the speaking, reflecting his inside knowledge of the Senate based on his experience and leadership role.
Both Gonzalez and Wallace stressed that they were at the session to make sure that the local leaders knew to communicate with them about the needs of the local communities.
“If there is something I need to know,” Wallace said, “or something that will help me do my job better, I’ll really count on you all to reach out to me and to speak up and let me know about issues that are important to us here at the local level that we need to be fighting for at the state level.”
“Our goal and our priority is to make sure we’re doing what this district needs to be done at the state level,” Gonzalez said.
“Tell us what are the concerns, what are the issues,” she said. “You know your communities better than we ever could.”
Oconee County falls entirely within Senate District 46, which also includes parts of Clarke County and Walton County.
Cowsert, an attorney, lives in Athens-Clarke County.
Three of Oconee County’s 13 precincts–Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart–are in the 117th House District, which also includes parts of Barrow, Clarke and Jackson counties.
Gonzalez lives in Athens-Clarke County and is an attorney.
House District 119 consists of the remaining 10 precincts of Oconee County as well as parts of Clarke County.
Wallace is a software developer and entrepreneur who lives in Oconee County.
Cowsert said he expects the Senate to try to find a way to incentivize the construction of high speed Internet throughout the state, but he recognized the difficulty of doing that when the service providers are private companies.
Other issues that Cowsert said the legislature will have to deal with are rural healthcare, the Opioid crisis, and antiterrorism
“We’ll have some initiatives this year to try to make certain everybody in Georgia has access to high quality healthcare,” Cowsert said.
“There is truly an epidemic,” Cowsert said on Opioids. “We’ll be trying to figure out how to do what we can to help intervene in that.”
On terrorism, Cowsert said “The idea is to have interdiction there to stop anything before it happens.”
Gonzalez said she had been assigned to three committees: Code Revision, Intragovernmental Coordination, and Judiciary Non-Civil.
Wallace said he had been assigned to Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight, Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications, and Special Rules.
Cowsert is on a long list of Senate Committees: Administrative Affairs, Appropriations, Assignments, Finance, Health and Human Services, Judiciary, Regulated Industries and Utilities, Rules and Transportation.
Despite sitting on the Transportation Committee, Cowsert said he would have little impact on decisions regarding the widening of U.S. 441 in the county.
Cowsert said, as far as he knows, no decision has been made regarding a bypass of Bishop.
Sarah Bell was one of seven citizens who attended the legislative session on Dec. 22.
Bell made the video recording of the session that is below.
Cowsert began speaking at the very beginning of the session.
Wallace started his comments at 13:20.
Gonzalez began speaking at 14:18.
Wallace spoke again briefly at 19:15.
Discussion began at 20:09.