Hightower spoke at a Thursday night meeting of the Carroll County Tea Party, which was attended by all the state delegation members representing Carroll County. Others in attendance included Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton; Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange; Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton; and Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan.
“The speaker presented the ethics bill to the Rules Committee today,” Hightower said, noting that it won’t be brought to the House floor today because a lot of House members will be absent to attend the funeral of a former House member.
“There’s been a lot of work done on the ethics bill,” he said. “I was weary of it at first, because I thought they were going to ram something down our throats.”
Hightower said the confusion over who is a lobbyist and who will have to register has been cleared up under the new version.
“People who come, on their own, to express a personal opinion, don’t have to get a lobbyist badge,” he said. “But if you’re there on behalf of an organization, you need to get a badge. It used to be a $300 badge, but they dropped that to a $25 fee.”
Hightower said the ethics bill also has a provision giving a lobbyist five free days before having to register.
But, he said he believes ethics is something that can’t be governed.
“We (legislators) are as close as you can get to your community,” he said. “If you don’t like what we’re doing, vote us out.”
Dugan said he has been serving in the state Senate now for 21 days and “thoroughly” enjoys it. He said he talks almost daily with the county’s three house representatives about issues and added he’s lucky to have two "great" senators sitting near him, Mike Crane, who serves in a district to the south, and Bill Heath, on the north.
Dugan defended his “yes” vote on the hospital provider fee as a matter of preserving rural hospitals.
“At the end of the day, I looked at the $700 million that would be pulled out if it wasn’t renewed,” he said. “It’s not perfect and not one I’d design, but I voted for it.”
Dugan said he did support an amendment which would have limited the term to two years, but it failed.
However, he did say he will not support para-mutual betting — horse racing — in Georgia.
“I’ve looked at other states that have it and the government support that had to go into it,” he said. “If it’s supposed to generate such revenue, why are other states having to support it? We’d be opening a can of worms that we don’t have to. I’m not against horse racing. I like to watch it. I’m just not for state sponsored betting.”
Cooke said he gets a lot of questions about gun bills and he said a lot of individual gun bills will be rolled into one comprehensive bill that’s now being drafted. He said the bill will address campus carrying, church carrying (if church wants to allow it) and carrying in government buildings.
“Courthouses, mental health facilities and prisons will still be off limits,” he said.
Cooke said the comprehensive law will be a “step in the right direction” and he hopes it will make it in time for “crossover day,” the last day bills can be introduced and make it through both chambers of the General Assembly.
In response to a question about proposed federal firearms bans, Cooke said, “I’m not for any ban, whatsoever. The federal government doesn’t have the right to curb our Second Amendment rights.”
Nix talked about his work on House Bill 186, to provide career pathways through technical training, and House Bill 244, a new teacher evaluation bill.
“The bill requires every teacher, principal and assistant principal to be evaluated every year,” Nix said. He said results are based on students increasing scores and 12 other factors. He said it would be an objective way to evaluate staff and would have a four-tier grading system for educators instead of the current “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.”
“I believe we owe it to our students, parents and taxpayers to make sure we have the best possible teachers in the classroom,” Nix said.
Crane charged that government basically has only two branches now, executive and judiciary.
“We get to pass legislation but we don’t get to dictate the flow of legislation,” he said. “The executive branch controls the flow.”
Crane said changes are being made in the juvenile justice system because jails have become overcrowded and young people are being sent to prison at a “staggering record rate” and there has to be a better approach. He said the ultimate fix is to “restore the family.”
“If we don’t restore the backbone of society, the family, we can spend every dollar we have and it’s not going to fix anything,” he said.