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Q&A: Burt Jones, Candidate for Georgia Senate District 25

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The need for broadband connectivity is at the forefront of needs across the state especially since the onset of the pandemic. Jones County is no different with large areas having inadequate and even no internet service. What is your plan to utilize state and other resources to help?

Expanding broadband connectivity and access remains a top priority. Over the past several years, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to address areas where connecting is a real issue. Senate Bill 402, “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act,” went in-to effect in 2018 and addresses broadband services planning, deployment, and incentives. In 2019, we made additional progress by passing Senate Bill 2 enabling EMCs to provide internet services and broadband to their customers, in addition to supplying electrical energy. Central Georgia EMC started their work on this and others in the region have agreed to do the same. There are some issues that need to be addressed regarding pole attachment fees, but I believe the local EMCs are making progress on this issue. I am never in favor of government telling private companies how to do business but if this cannot be resolved, additional legislation might be necessary. Getting broadband connectivity to areas without access is critical now more than ever. We have seen the negative impact lack of access can have on families who are trying to adjust to a new normal – working from home or even homeschooling their kids.

The Hope Scholarship has helped thousands of Georgia students attend college since its creation in 1993, but it has undergone changes and challenges over the years. Are you a supporter of the scholarship, and, if so, what will you do to ensure that it is there for students for years to come.

Yes, I support the HOPE scholarship. This is a great program that has impacted Georgia families in a positive way. In order to secure this program for the future, we must analyze how the university system is spending the revenues that are coming in and why tuitions continue to go up when they have a cap on enrollment. The number of students isn’t going up, but fees and tuition continue to rise. The trajectory for revenues is not going to maintain the rapidly increasing tuition models. The system continues to add more overhead and personnel on the backs of our citizens. We need to thoroughly review the spending habits of the system and challenge them to lower their spending so our students can continue to get a higher education without breaking the bank and living with student debt.

What will you do to raise teacher salaries and strengthen teacher preparation?

I support the proposal from the current administration to raise teacher pay by $5,000. There was a plan to make progress towards this commitment this session but the budget process and COVID19 didn’t allow for that to happen this year. I believe in focusing on classroom teachers and supporting them however we can because they serve a vital role by educating the future workforce of this state and nation. 

What are your thoughts about home rule for cities and counties, particularly considering the different needs of rural counties versus more densely populated cities during the pandemic?

I support local control and a more centralized local government. I believe that those on the local level know the needs of their communities best and that local decision making should be left to local representatives.

What are your thoughts on evaluating school performance and state accountability (CCRPI)? Specifically, what are your thoughts about assessment/testing in our public schools?

Alleviating unnecessary assessments and testing in our public schools would enable our K-12 teachers to focus more on a teacher and student relationship. We need to focus on an essential curriculum so that we can prepare our students for long-term success instead of test preparation. More testing will not ensure literacy and can lead to unnecessary paperwork and mandates for our classroom teachers. I believe schools should have flexibility in how they access students.

What is your opinion of the value an education in the arts (dance, drama/theatre, music, visual arts) provides students?

I am a huge fan of extracurricular activities like arts and sports because they provide opportunities for kids to do things outside of normal education. Kids can enhance their skills, make friends and form an understanding of community and cultural awareness. 

Online purchases are at an all time high. Should the taxes on those sales be based on the address of the store or the purchaser? Why?

I do not support additional taxes on anyone, but I believe that our brick and mortar businesses should be treated the same as online companies. Consumers must pay taxes in our local stores and that can put them at a disadvantage if online retailers aren’t collecting them. Taxes should be uniform across the board so that our small businesses aren’t at a competitive disadvantage.

Healthcare is a huge talking point in elections across the nation, but it is literally a life and death issue in rural counties. What is your plan to improve the availability of healthcare for constituents in the rural counties you serve?

We need to address three main things to increase healthcare access in rural communities – promote the tax credit incentive for contributions, support telehealth development and enhance the tuition forgiveness program for medical professionals. In 2016, we passed SB 258 allowing individuals and businesses to receive a tax credit for making donations to Georgia’s rural hospitals. In 2018, legislation was passed to increase the tax credits to 100 percent of the donations. Telehealth has become a vital piece of the healthcare puzzle and we need to expand on the progress that has been made during the pandemic. We need to in-vest in broadband and other infrastructure that will enable telehealth and telemedicine to expand in our communities where access to healthcare is minimal or not in existence. Georgia’s tuition forgiveness program for medical staff needs to be advertised and utilized more. We need to keep the brightest and best in the medical field not only in our state but specifically in our rural communities.