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Rep. Ramsey: Legislature to focus on pro-business issues

It’s getting closer to January, when the Georgia Legislature convenes for its annual session of adding, subtracting, amending and deleting Georgia law.

The upcoming session will of course be dominated by the budget again, but Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, is hopeful that after the past several years of significant cuts the state has reached a point where the revenue and expenses are more stable.

“The last three or four years we’ve just been in crisis mode and doing everything we can, and succeeding in keeping the budget balanced,” Ramsey said. “I think through those efforts now we are kind of reaching a period where hopefully things are stabilizing and it will be a little bit more easy and a more efficient budget process this year than it has been.”

Other large-ranging topics up for grabs this year are tax reform and other measures as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s efforts to improve Georgia’s position to attract businesses here.

Ramsey noted that the state was recently named one of the top business climates in the country by Site Selection magazine, but the state needs to keep evaluating its tax regulatory climate to make sure it can continue to attract new businesses along with the expansions of existing businesses.

Deal’s “competitiveness initiative” pairs leaders in the business community with state government “to make sure the state has a business friendly environment in Georgia that is going to lead to job creation and economic growth,” Ramsey said.

In addition to tax reform, the state will also look at changing regulatory restrictions to improve the business climate, Ramsey said.

“That will certainly be a theme for the whole session,” Ramsey added.

Ramsey, who sits on the non-civil judiciary committee, is also looking forward to diving into the recommendations that could spark an overhaul of how non-violent criminals are handled in Georgia.

The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians has determined that some 60 percent of prison admissions are of offenders charged with drug and property crimes. In the category of drug offenses, some 3,200 offenders are admitted annually on a drug possession conviction, not including those incarcerated on a sales or trafficking conviction, according to the council’s report.

The report recommends that millions could be saved by having such low-risk, non-violent offenders supervised in the community by probation officers and also “accountability courts” such as the Fayette County Drug Court, which are aimed at treating the underlying substance abuse problem in the hopes of reducing offenders’ chance of committing subsequent crimes.

A portion of the money saved by reducing the prison population could be poured into improving the community supervision programs such as probation and accountability courts to help make them more effective and more pervasive. The other upshot, according to the council, will be insurance that the prison system is reserved for violent offenders so they may be kept off Georgia’s streets for as long as necessary.

Georgia’s prison system costs more than $1 billion a year, an average of $17,857 per inmate. Costs are projected to rise some $264 million over the next five years in order to increase capacity for the projected population increase, according to the report.

Ramsey said Monday he had not yet read the report, which was released Friday, but he has heard great reviews about it. “We have to be sure our public safety dollars are being used in a way that maximized the safety of the public,” Ramsey said, noting the legislature will be looking at a variety of alternatives to address the issue.

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