Businesss Casual: Come Together

Real bipartisanship – involving conversation, cooperation and compromise – is not so much in evidence these days, but in Georgia there is hope.

The word gets bandied about a good bit, but real bipartisanship seems to be in pretty short supply these days. When it shows up, it’s usually a watered-down version in the form of legislation endorsing safe boating or puppy adoption.

But real bipartisanship, involving conversation, cooperation, compromise, even a little horse-trading, is not so much in evidence. Truthfully, it’s easier to rant and rave about an opponent’s position than to work with that opponent on crafting a bill that might benefit both sides. That kind of negotiation requires spending long hours in meeting rooms, struggling to find areas of agreement. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

In Washington, political polarization has made bipartisan action particularly hard to come by on difficult topics. The tone set by the White House has been harsh, divisive and non-productive, and the impeachment process has further divided Congress.

But in Georgia, I believe there is hope. I believe we can still pull off a bit of bipartisanship. (And, yes, for the record, I also believe in free ice cream on your birthday and tax breaks for unicorn farms.)

There is precedent. In recent sessions, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were able to come together and pass legislation to make it easier for patients in need of medical marijuana to obtain it. It took more than one try to get it right, but the result represents a successful attempt to work toward an important end.

I hope our Georgia lawmakers are up for more bipartisan efforts in the 2020 General Assembly session. It’s likely a matter of finding the right topics and putting serious effort into the work required to move some needles. Admittedly, there doesn’t seem much hope for bipartisan solutions to issues of abortion access, gun control or immigration matters. But surely there are topics on which it is possible to find areas of agreement: healthcare, education, criminal justice, public safety and economic development.

Most Georgians want better, more affordable healthcare for all citizens; the tough part is agreeing on how to achieve that. The state is pursuing Medicaid waivers from the federal government rather than an outright expansion of the program. Only about 50,000 additional Georgians who do not qualify for Medicaid are likely to see any benefit.

That’s disappointing, but there are other health topics lawmakers can work on, like more help for those caught in the grip of the state’s opioid crisis. More treatment centers and more resources for existing programs and facilities would be a start. So would increased educational efforts to warn citizens of the consequences of opioid abuse.

Rural communities lack sufficient healthcare professionals; for many Georgians, accessing available care is difficult. There are a lot of big needs, but smaller steps would help, too, like providing more state funds for medical transportation assistance.

When it comes to education, Georgians want our public education system to do right by all the children it is entrusted with, to make sure that all students have the same resources and quality teaching the most successful schools have. Directing more money for counselors, nurses and reading specialists to poor schools and school districts would help level the playing field.

In the area of criminal justice, Georgia is making significant progress, revamping our systems and our approaches. Legislators should monitor the changes and be prepared to make additional funding and help available for rehabilitation as well as incarceration – and look at whether farming out prison operations to private interests is serving us well.

I believe there is considerable accord on public safety. Citizens are equally horrified at killings of and by law enforcement officers. More intensive training for police in dealing with crisis situations, which the state could assist with, would help.

There is also the matter of protecting what we have, nurturing economic development and making sure resources are available to help every corner of the state attract business and investment. We have to encourage the industries that have made the commitment to locate in Georgia and continue to support our university system and technical college system that supply the workforce.

Bipartisanship is the bus we need to drive us toward these ends.

Categories: Business Casual, Opinions