Majority Leader and presumptive House Speaker Jon Burns and House District 161 Representative Bill Hitchens met with local leaders and community members at the Eggs and Issues Breakfast of Effingham County to review legislative priorities for 2023.
Transportation will be the focal point ahead of the state session, and economic prosperity support programs are also of interest.
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Transport: Expansion of Highway 21 to come?
Effingham County residents are fed up with the lack of transportation options. Motorists are stressed from long hour-long drives in Chatham County and complain about 18-wheelers clogging major thoroughfares.
Talk of Effingham Parkway began in the late 1990s. Some three decades later, residents are beginning to see construction work on the $56 million project which is due for completion in April 2025.
As the county prepares for the opening of the Hyundai plant in Bryan County, officials face mounting pressure to expand Highway 21, but relief talks are still in their early stages.
“I drive on (Highway) 21 like everyone else,” Hitchens said. “That’s the one thing people won’t let me forget. We pushed to make it six lanes.
Highway 21, a key route for drivers in Effingham County, is part of a study by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
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“It looks at the coastal area and incorporates Chatham, Effingham, Bryan and Bulloch County and looks at transportation issues throughout the region due to overall development and we’re all in this JDA together,” Burns said. “But I can assure you that Highway 21 will be a priority because it’s one of the areas that needs a lot of attention.”
Some 20,000 residents commute to work each day outside of Effingham County. Burns added that keeping more people in the county will alleviate traffic issues and the financial return will be very profitable.
“When we employ our local people at home, it’s a great economic opportunity for our citizens,” Burns said.
Mental Health: Increasing Funding and Policies
Former House Speaker David Ralston was on a mission to make mental health care accessible to all Georgians. Before his untimely death, he championed Bill 1013, which aims to make mental health care services more accessible, including resolving issues with insurers and providing a strong workforce to meet needs. of each patient.
The bill removes the ugly spot as the 48th-ranked state for access to mental health care services and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on April 4.
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Burns and Hitchens agreed that the state needed to move forward and increase funding and policies to support mental health services. “We want to keep working on this because we know how important it is,” Burns said.
Dr. Fran Witt, president and CEO of Effingham Health System, said mental health funding is critical to ensuring the wellbeing of county residents.
“Like hospitals across the country, we need funding to help with recovery strategies resulting from the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, to help recover volume and revenue related to workforce shortages, as well as supply chain issues and inflation,” Witt said. was reassuring to hear both Rep. Bill Hitchens and Rep. Jon Burns express their continued support for needed mental health services and programs in Effingham.
Workforce Development: Creating Opportunities for Effingham
The Savannah Technical College will be a key asset for Hyundai as they begin to grow their workforce. Hitchens visited the school last week and said one of his biggest needs from Hyundai was precision manufacturing lessons.
“At the moment they only have one,” Hitchens said. “I want to see the locals get the jobs, not the people who come from all over. We have people who are unemployed for whatever reason or who have graduated from high school. You can make a good living even if you don’t spend four years in college. Hyundai is going to be a tremendous asset in this area.
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But not everyone will work at the Hyundai plant. With that in mind, Brandt Herndon, CEO of the Effingham County Development Authority, said his vision for the workhouse development was to provide residents with more job opportunities in the county.
“Effingham County is blessed with a healthy mix of trained and skilled workers thanks to our top-notch education system and attractive quality of life,” Herndon said. “Our goal is to work with our economic development partners, community leaders and existing industries to ensure there are more comparable opportunities.
The Savannah Joint Development Authority assesses the basic labor needs of current businesses and reviews potential labor demands in the future.
“From there, we hope to work with our state’s leaders to make informed decisions about policy and how to effectively address the changes we’re going to see in our region and our state in the short and long term,” he said. Herndon said.
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Burns added that creating sustainable growth preserves the county’s environment as one of the best places to live and work in Georgia.
“We are committed to improving the state’s infrastructure. We want economic development to go hand in hand with infrastructure.
Education: Find more funding to support programs
The Georgian education system is a hot topic as students continually fall well below a third-grade reading level by the time they reach middle school. State legislatures want to improve preschool education so that students are confident when accepting third-grade reading material.
“You’ll see funding for education will be increased across the board as we work to address some of the issues,” Burns said. “Education starts early and we certainly work very hard to make sure students have all the resources they need.”
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Effingham County Superintendent Yancy Ford is pleased with the support received for various programs such as Bright from the Start and will continue to work alongside state officials to secure funding for safety, infrastructure and retention educators in public schools.
“We have a great pre-K program at Effingham and Georgia as a whole,” Ford said. “Kindergarten is our first opportunity to give our students a first impression of school. We are always excited about this opportunity to work with parents and students. »
Latrice Williams is a general assignment reporter covering Bryan and Effingham County. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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