ST. MARYS — A proposed spaceport and funding to build a technical college in Kingsland are among the top priorities for state lawmakers representing Camden County, but a lot more will be discussed during the upcoming legislative session.

Renewal of a hospital bed tax, religious liberties, casino gambling and education reform are among the key issues that will be considered by the General Assembly when the session begins in January.

State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said there will be big winners and losers among the hospitals whose revenues are taxed.

“This policy is a redistributionist scheme that taxes hospital revenues to trigger a draw down of federal dollars to pay increases in Medicaid reimbursements back to the very hospitals that were taxed,” he said. “This policy was supposed to stop or slow down hospital closures in Georgia, but this policy does not appear to have stopped hospital closures in Georgia.”

The policy has significant budget implications, which is why Spencer, a physicians assistant, said he believes the issue will be discussed early in the legislative session.

A religious liberty fight is also expected because some state lawmakers and other potential candidates will be preparing to run for governor in 2018, but Spencer said he doesn’t expect the House to discuss the issue very long.

“This political football will be interesting,” he said.

Spencer predicted casino gambling will be debated again to help provide more funding to the HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs.

“I do not support the casino gambling the way it is proposed as this policy will exponential grow the size of state government and contribute to inflation of tuition prices for colleges and universities statewide,” he said. “This will hurt families trying to pay for college.”

State lawmakers are expected to discuss education reform during the upcoming session.

Spencer said Quality Basic Education Act has never been fully funded and described the program as “archaic.”

“However, since I have been in office, the General Assembly has added more money to the QBE formula and we have advised that some appropriations in last year’s budget go towards teacher raises, but that did not happen in some school districts,” he said. “I expect the General Assembly to address this issue next year statutorily to make sure teacher get their raises.”

Teacher merit pay will also be up for discussion, he said.

State Rep. John Corbett predicted state lawmakers will wait to see how the new administration in Washington addresses education reform before discussing the issue.

Corbett said courts are expected to rule on the ongoing water wars between Georgia and surrounding states, which could force legislators to address the issue.

Closer to home, both state representatives say a new technical college in Kingsland remains a priority.

“We’re working very hard,” Corbett said. “We’re working with (state education) commissioners.”

Spencer said the county is in a good position for the final phase of funding for construction of a technical college to be approved. A House study committee on military affairs is recommending a technical college to support Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

“I believe our position in the budget process is ideal and the support of the Military Affairs committee bolsters our chances to complete the final phase of funding this coming session,” Spencer said.

Corbett said he expects a national base realignment study to be held in coming years and wants to protect all the state’s military bases.

Sequestration continues to be a concern that Corbett said he hopes federal officials resolve because of the strains it puts on the military.

“It’s still a very real threat,” he said. “Hopefully, they will repeal sequestration. I don’t think the defense of our country should be budget driven.”

Corbett said he wants to introduce legislation that makes it easier for military spouses to transfer health care, teaching and other licenses to Georgia.

Spencer expressed confidence the House and Senate will approve the Georgia Space Flight Act during the upcoming session. The Senate and House formed subcommittees to discuss the issue this year.

“They are ready to move on passage of the Georgia Spaceflight Act,” he said. “This law will set a minimum industry standard for Georgia to be competitive with other space states like Florida and Texas. This bill will certainly help the efforts of Spaceport Camden should we get an FAA license for launch.”

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