Issues

THOMASVILLE — Illegal immigration, health care, education and gun laws were all main topics at Saturday’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Sen. John Bulloch.

A huge crowd gathered at the Plaza to hear the legislators’ takes on current statewide issues and to share their own concerns about government affairs.

“As far as talking about politics or laws, there are always varying opinions,” Bulloch said. “If we don’t hear from you, our constituents in the general public, we really don’t know what the heartbeat is on some of these issues. That’s the purpose of this meeting.”

Cagle said he had two major objectives in his role as lieutenant governor — uniting Democratic and Republican leaders and working toward more economic development and job opportunities in the state.

“I believe in a deliberative body and respecting every senator whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” he said. “Georgians are tired of partisan bickering. They’re tired of people just focusing on what the Democrats want or what the Republicans want. They want somebody that will be focused on what Georgia needs.”

Cagle said he would work closely with Gov. Sonny Perdue to bring jobs and economic development opportunities to Georgia. “I believe, fundamentally, that jobs are how people experience the American dream. The government does not create jobs, but it creates the right circumstances and environment by which jobs can be created,” he said. “Bringing jobs to Georgia is critical to our future and to our kids’ future.”

He also said strengthening the state’s educational efforts is also vital to Georgia’s future. “I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all educational system,” Cagle said. “What works in Thomasville may not work in Gainesville because the dynamics are different — the people are different.”

Cagle said he wants to work toward giving local communities and school boards the option of creating their own curriculums, rather than following one mandated by the state or federal government. He said would like to see the proliferation of charter school systems around the state.

“I don’t think it’s right for the state to tell you that you have to have 16 students in the classroom to one teacher, or how many educational hours to spend on a particular subject,” Cagle said. “That ties the hands of teachers, administrators and school board members. That needs to go away.”

Five charter school systems will be created across the state this year, Cagle said. He also wants to see more career academies, which would train some students for jobs instead of preparing them for college.

Cagle said there are several laws and bills with relevance to South Georgia now being debated by state legislators. One of them is a proposed law that would require anyone riding in a pickup truck to wear a seatbelt.

“A senator came up to me the other day and said ‘If we took everybody out of the backs of these pickup trucks, some people wouldn’t get to work in the morning.’ There’s a lot of validity to that — you have to have some common sense,” Cagle said. “I don’t expect that bill to pass.”

Another proposed bill would allow greater freedom for people to carry guns in their vehicles. “Quite candidly, I think it’s a good idea. I hope we can get with law enforcement officers and address the issue,” Cagle said. “Every law enforcement official should always approach a vehicle as if there were a gun in it.”

Cagle added that an American citizen’s right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Constitutional Amendment. “I believe an individual that wants to carry a gun in their vehicle should have the right to do so,” he said.

Another big issue in the capital is regulating payday lending businesses and programs. Years ago, Georgia outlawed the industry, but now that the businesses are coming back to the state, Cagle said some legislators want to legitimize payday lending services.

“I’ve been very firm in saying I don’t think we need to do that. Most people who need credit or access to credit have the ability to do so,” Cagle said. “These people have been coming into our state and preying on our poorest citizens.”

The PeachCare crisis continues to be one of the biggest issues among legislators this year, Cagle said. The federal government has announced cuts of $131 million to the Georgia low-income insurance program, potentially leaving some 270,000 children without health insurance.

“It’s a program I think we need to continue,” Cagle said. “I believe we can save PeachCare and allow recipients to continue to receive their benefit. It can be done in a bipartisan effort.”

Bulloch said if the federal government does not pay it’s portion of the PeachCare budget, cuts will have to be made in other state programs to keep the program afloat. “There’s not a bucket of money just sitting out there,” he said. “We’re going to have to take it from somewhere else.”

One audience member asked what legislators are doing to protect the state from illegal immigration. Cagle said Georgia has been one of the leading states in curbing illegal immigration, restricting those who cannot prove legal residency from certain tax-paid services.

“The federal government has not stepped up to the plate to address this issue,” Cagle said. “Until they secure the border, this issue will continue to exist. We have led the nation in taking very strong steps to curb illegal immigration. We have drawn a line in the sand.”

To contact reporter Brewer Turley, call (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.

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