Columbia County Chamber of Commerce lists workforce training and tort reform among its legislative priorities for the upcoming session.
The chamber held its annual pre-legislative session breakfast on Nov. 2, hosting members of the local delegation and business leaders.
“It’s an opportunity for us to educate our delegates on what our priorities are,” said chamber president and CEO, Russell Lahodny. “And it’s also an opportunity to hear from them and what are the things that they’re seeing? What are the things that they’re going to be focusing on in 2024? And for us to know what topics and things they’re going to be working on.”
Senators, Max Burns (R-District 23) and Lee Anderson (R-District 24) were joined by representatives, Jodi Lott (R-District 131), Barry Fleming (R-District 125), Dr. Mark Newton (R-District 127) and Rob Leverett (R-District 123) for the panel discussion.
On the subject of the workforce, Anderson said even at the state government level, it can be challenging to attract, and retain, employees. One of the biggest challenges is government salaries cannot compete with the private sector.
“I’m on appropriations and I’m going to be pushing for this coming year,” he said. “Every time we have a director or Commissioner coming in front of us, when you ask them, the top three goals that they need to get accomplished, number one is that. So, we’re definitely going to have to confront some way to raise base salary.”
Lott said another issue for working parents is the cost of childcare.
“That kind of goes into a little bit of what Senator Anderson was talking about how all of you get employees if their childcare is hundreds, and sometimes in some families near $500 a week when they’re putting three small kids in childcare,” she said. “We know this, we also know that our childcare workers are really low-paid positions. So, we’re looking at all of the things that we can do.”
Lott said one possible solution is to look into tax incentives for businesses that may help with sharing those costs as a benefit for employees.
Georgia has a number of tax credits that are used to attract new businesses to the state. One of the best known may be the film tax credit which has been used to build the state’s growing industry of film and television productions. It is one of the credits currently under review by the Joint Tax Credit Review Panel, co-chaired by Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R–Rome). The panel was created in the 2023 legislative session to review the efficacy of the tax credits.
Burns said he believes reviewing the tax credits being offered every few years is wise.
“Our objective is not to reduce or eliminate tax credits. Our objective is to understand the return on investment of those tax credits,” he explained. “We’re looking for a return on investment. At the end of the day, the objective is to attract jobs to employ people to enhance the tax base. And we would hope that the state would benefit from any credit that has been provided.”
Turning the attention to tort reform, Leverett said the goal is to make sure the justice system functions properly and is not subject to abuse by frivolous lawsuits.
“In the General Assembly last year, we tried to start making some inroads on that,” he said. “We passed the bill, both House and Senate, called the so-called “Apex Doctrine,” which limits the ability of plaintiffs primarily to summon the CEOs, high ranking executives for deposition, which is often used as sort of gamesmanship type tactic in those lawsuits. And it just limits the ability of parties to do that sort of thing in the lawsuit to situations where it really is essential to develop some central fact of the case.”