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Clayton legislative delegation to host annual forum

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Municipalities, quasi-governmental entities, businesses, and others with legislative requests will have a chance to express their desires before the Clayton County Legislative Delegation during its annual Breakfast and Legislative Forum.

The forum will take place Wednesday, Jan. 6, at 9 a.m., in rooms CE-201 and CE-203 of the Harry S. Downs Center for Continuing Education at Clayton State University.

According to State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), chairman of the Clayton Delegation, this year will mark the third year the group has hosted the forum. He said, traditionally, the forum has been open to "pretty much anyone in the community with a legislative interest," to give them a chance to weigh in on legislation the delegation will pursue during the General Assembly session.

"Typically, it's any governmental agency in the county, like the Sheriff's department, any of the court systems, the water authority ... We have also had presentations from the Chamber of Commerce and Clayton State University," Glanton said. "We talk about everything from what the budget situation is, issues with annexation, what the requirements are of the courts to operate. Last year, the courts presented their case load to us and we were able to successfully draft legislation for them to get a fifth state court judge."

As of Wednesday, the City of Jonesboro, the City of Morrow, Clayton State University, Clayton County Public Schools, Clayton County Probate Court, the Clayton County Tax Commissioner, the Clayton County District Attorney, and the Clayton County Magistrate Court were all expected to make presentations before the delegation, according to Glanton.

"The delegation can pass local legislation without a resolution," Glanton said. "[However,] we don't want to second guess the will of the cities or county. We've had things [requests] in the past, such as salary increases, some that we have fought for, and some that we haven't. The legislative delegation still has to make a determination. Traditionally, if it's not something that creates issues between different government agencies, the delegation will honor the request."

According to John Lampl, executive director of the Morrow Downtown Development Authority, Morrow will ask the group to pursue local legislation to increase the city's occupancy (hotel/motel) tax from 6 percent to 8 percent. He said doing so would follow suit with the county, which was successful in lobbying for an identical occupancy tax increase earlier this year.

"We have maximized what we can do in terms of retail," Lampl said. "When you have 3 million square feet of retail in a two-square-mile area, you are probably not going to get much more. The next big market to capture is tourism. If a tourist comes here, stays in a hotel, and goes to a restaurant, and those kinds of things, that money goes around [the community]."

Lampl said the "vast majority" of the tax increase would be used to better market Morrow's tourism assets, such as the National Archives at Atlanta, Spivey Hall, and Olde Towne Morrow. He said some of the money may also assist in paying utilities at the recently-opened Morrow Conference Center.

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley said he will ask the delegation to support federal mandates, such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, with state funding. He added that he will also ask the delegation to see what it can do about increasing the state's drop-out age from 16 to 18 years old.

"What we are looking for is anything that is going to let the business of education prosper," Heatley said. "One of the things we are going to be looking for is making sure the education funding is going to remain stable. We hire teachers and staff members on a year contract and it takes away from the educational process when you have to start talking about furlough days.

"We are going to try to find a way to make sure the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind is being supported by the state," he continued. "I would love the state of Georgia to ensure that all students are made to stay in school until 18 [years of age]. Right now, my understanding is that they are able to drop out at the age of 16."

He said increasing the drop-out age may help increase county graduation rates.

For more information about the forum, contact Glanton at (678) 479-7730 or glantonm@bellsouth.net.