Georgia lawmakers hear about health care, Cherokee sites from constituents

Georgia lawmakers hear about health care, Cherokee sites from constituents

August 28th, 2009 by Andy Johns in News

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Fort Oglethorpe and Catoosa County firefighters meet with state Rep. Jay Neal, center, and state Sen. Jeff Mullis, upper right, during Open Office Day at the Catoosa County Colonnade on Thursday morning. Legislative assistant Laurie Sparks, left, takes notes during each meeting.

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Lawmakers were peppered with questions ranging from health care and roads to education and Cherokee historic sites at open house meetings Thursday in Catoosa County.

"We try to get around the community," said Georgia Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton. "We like to keep in touch."

About 15 individuals or groups of people met with a slew of lawmakers including Sens. Thomas and Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga; Reps. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette; and Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold; and staff members from U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, all Republicans.

"The most common thing is frustration with the health care," Rep. Neal said.

"We sent them to the next room," interjected Sen. Mullis, half joking as he pointed to the room where the federal staff was meeting with residents.

The federal representatives present at the meetings said they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Ringgold resident Susanne Otting, who recently moved to Catoosa County from Australia, said she came to tell the representatives about the long waiting lists, nursing shortages and poor equipment she had seen with government-run health care in Australia.

"America doesn't need socialized medicine," she said. "It fails all over the world."

Sen. Mullis said throughout similar meetings in other counties that he had heard plenty against the proposed health care reforms and only one person for it. On Thursday, he said he did not hear any supporters for the proposals.

But health care was not the only thing discussed.

Firefighters from Catoosa and Walker counties came to speak with Sen. Mullis and Rep. Neal about a revision to the state's indemnification program, which gives money to the families of some public workers who are killed in the line of duty. The revision, Rep. Mullis co-authored, makes it more difficult for the families of single firefighters to claim benefits if the firefighter is killed.

"We need next term to make sure we fix this," Rep. Neal said, after Sen. Mullis admitted the law's final wording doesn't reflect his original intentions.

Ringgold resident Alva Crowe, a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, asked about cuts at the Chief Vann House and New Echota historical sites. Both sites saw their hours of operation scaled back earlier this summer as part of a statewide effort to make up a budget shortfall by cutting services at parks and historic sites.

"I want to hear what their side is and what they see," Mr. Crowe said before meeting with Sen. Mullis and Rep. Neal.

The lawmakers offered an explanation of the funding issues and both said they had not heard much from the Cherokee.

When Mr. Crowe asked why Civil War sites in the area seem to get more attention than Cherokee sites, Sen. Mullis told Mr. Crowe that the "squeaky wheel gets the oil" and the Cherokee should consider "going on the warpath" to raise awareness of the history.

"Everybody is affected, including the Department of Natural Resources," Rep. Mullis said about the shortfall.