FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Local, federal, state and county leaders came together for a joint town hall meeting March 14 at Lambert High School.
The town hall included U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, state Sen. Greg Dolezal, state Rep. Todd Jones, Forsyth County Board of Commission Chair Laura Semanson and County Commissioner Dennis Brown. Forsyth Board of Education Chair Kristin Morrissey and Sheriff Ron Freeman also spoke at the event.
With an array of elected officials on hand, topics discussed varied from national, state and local issues. Hundreds of residents packed the Lambert cafeteria for the 90-minute session, and many stayed around afterward to meet with the lawmakers.
Asked for his thoughts on President Trump’s national emergency declaration regarding the southern border, Woodall said it is important not to confuse border security with legal immigration. He emphasized the need to improve the legal system for those wishing to enter the country legally.
“If you have friends waiting to get here legally, you know it is a long tortuous process,” he said. “We have families in this district that have been waiting for not two years, not five years, not 10 years, but upwards of 15 years waiting to reunify. We have folks who have played by the rules, they come here legally, they are getting their visas renewed but they can’t get a green card because there are no slots left in the system.”
While funding has been added to employ more ICE officials, Woodall said there has been a lack of applications for the positions.
“I believe we have a pathway forward to a larger immigration bill that both deals with our legal immigration issues and our illegal border crossing issues,” Woodall said, adding he believes President Trump can “put his stamp” on such a bill.
On the subject of healthcare, Woodall said no changes can be made to the Affordable Care Act with Democrats in control of the U.S. House. He said while Medicaid is a broken system, he believes Georgia has an opportunity to improve care for residents with a state waiver to take advantage of federal funds.
Perhaps the most timely and contentious issue discussed at the town hall was the “heartbeat bill” currently before the Georgia Senate. The bill would ban abortions when a heartbeat can be detected, which typically occurs around six weeks in pregnancy.
“For me and my personal belief and my conviction, is that life begins at conception,” Dolezal told the crowd. “I believe we are talking about people in the womb. That is why I support this bill, that is why I have am pro-life.”
Jones said he ran on a platform of pro-life in 2016 and he garnered 70 percent of the vote that year and 67 percent in 2018.
“Clearly, the people who I represent feel as if that is the position they want me to maintain,” Jones said.
Jones and Dolezal also spoke in favor of the Education Savings Account bill sponsored by Dolezal and currently being deliberated at the state Capitol.
While both state representatives said they have an obligation to students throughout the state, Forsyth Board of Education Chair Kristin Morrissey rebutted to say taking students out of smaller public schools could further harm the rural systems.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman also discussed schools from a safety standpoint. Freeman said a deputy sheriff is assigned to each school with two at each large high school.
Freeman also reported Forsyth does not have a backlog of rape kits and every kit will be sent to the GBI.
Some in attendance asked questions regarding the county’s rapid growth. Commissioner Dennis Brown said the county is working hard to keep up with the infrastructure needs, and the board has been careful to listen to citizens to ensure quality growth.
County officials are also working to address traffic issues, which could include well-designed roundabouts and a plan to address Forsyth’s irregular placement of yield signs, Semanson said.
Dolezal told the crowd that Forsyth County residents “paid more than their fair share” for the recent Ga. 400 lane additions and that he will ensure that any further expansion will be paid for with state funds.