A Georgia bill set to be introduced this week seeks to extend HOPE scholarship benefits to some Tennessee residents.
The bill by Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, would give benefits to residents who live south of the 35th parallel, the disputed area of Tennessee that Georgia contends actually is part of the Peach State.
“Tennessee and Georgia have both recognized the 35th parallel as being the border between the two states,” Weldon said.
So, Weldon said, it’s only fair that Georgia extend benefits such as HOPE to those residents.
The problem started in 1826 when a stone marker was laid to note the state line. Because of a math error, the marker was placed a mile south of the actual 35th parallel.
Starting during the drought of 2007-08, Georgia leaders began talking about getting access to the Tennessee River. Moving the state border to the actual 35th parallel would give Georgia sorely needed water, but it also would turn thousands of Tennesseans — including some in Chattanooga and East Ridge — into residents of the Peach State.
Weldon, a Ringgold lawyer, said his bill has nothing to do with access to water.
“This has everything to do with offering valid Georgia citizens benefits and the ability to participate in all the programs of the state of Georgia,” Weldon said.
Tennessee Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said nothing has changed in Tennessee’s position on ownership of land south of the 35th parallel. Tennessee officials have said for years they won’t budge on the state-line issue and that Georgia has no legal claim to Tennessee River water.
Still, said Dean, who once was mayor of East Ridge, “I think that’s a wonderful opportunity Georgia is extending to Tennessee residents. Of course, we’d like them all to consider going to Tennessee colleges and universities first.”
Georgia’s HOPE program — funded by the state lottery — has been beset with financial woes as lottery sales slowed and college costs crept up in recent years. Gov. Nathan Deal last week introduced sweeping changes to the program meant to match HOPE expenses to lottery revenue.
Weldon said he’s not sure about the bill’s chances of passing.
“I haven’t [introduced] it, but when I do, I should know how people feel about it,” Weldon said.
A request for comment from Deal’s office Wednesday was not answered.
Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...