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Since its creation in 2017, the House Rural Development Council has been focused on finding ways to encourage economic growth and job creation in rural communities across the state. The council was renewed during the 2023 legislative session through the unanimous adoption of House Resolution 488, and late last week, the council held its first meeting for the 2023-2024 legislative term at the Georgia Farm Bureau headquarters in Macon.
State Rep. Mack Jackson, D-Sandersville, and Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, were named co-chairs by House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) earlier this year.
During the kickoff meeting, members of the council heard comprehensive presentations from agency heads, state and local leaders and stakeholders on many issues that often affect rural Georgia, including a report from Commissioner of Agriculture Tyler Harper. The commissioner provided updates on yellow-legged hornets in Georgia, the expansion of the state’s hemp regulations, electric vehicle charger monitoring, as well as policy issues regarding soil amendments and conservation easements.
The Department of Community Affairs provided the council with information regarding the OneGeorgia Authority and rural workforce housing initiatives, while representatives from the Georgia Department of Labor presented information on economic barriers in rural Georgia, including a declining workforce, population loss, lack of jobs, lack of trained workforce, uncertainty of health care and lack of access to capital.
“I have served as a member of this council for several years, and we have made a great deal of progress advancing legislation that supports rural Georgia and its citizens,” said Rep. Jackson. “As we heard from many presenters in Macon, there is more that the legislature can do to ensure the growth and stability of rural communities in our state, and we will give careful consideration to any legislative solutions to support our rural areas.”
Officials from the Georgia Farm Bureau spoke on wildlife nuisances and the ways in which wildlife can inflict significant damage to agricultural producers across many commodities. They added that the Farm Bureau will be exploring ways the Georgia General Assembly can help alleviate the impact of white-tailed deer on the state’s agriculture industry.
The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts’ state auditor spoke on emerging issues hindering local government access to state funds or grants – pointing out that some local governments fail to submit required audited financial information to the department on time or at all due to local management or financial staff turnover. According to officials, local governments must submit audited financial information to the department annually, and noncompliance is directly tied to the receipt of state funds. They outlined a plan to work with the legislature to refresh state laws to allow for simplified reporting to ease the burden on local governments and allow them to access funds that can improve their ability to complete local development projects.
“We had a great first meeting of this year’s House Rural Development Council in Macon and had a packed agenda that allowed us to explore a variety of topics that are important to rural Georgians,” said Greene. “Even though this council has been in place for a few years, the needs in our rural communities still persist.”