COLUMN: Silenced At The Georgia Capitol on HB 1146

This article is column submitted as a first-hand experience. It reflects only the views of the author.

By: Kristen Stampfer

I was so excited about the call from Ogeechee Riverkeeper (OR) to travel to the Georgia Capitol to speak in opposition of HB 1146 on behalf of the thousands of people I represent in my community who are highly concerned about water. I made plans that day, took off work, and started mapping out my speech. I was going to make an impact with this powerful speech, I just knew it. I reached out and was able to get two other volunteers to also give up their time and rearrange schedules to make the important trip.

The first roadblock we hit was a conflicting day and time on the website listed. We were told 8:00 am on Monday and had schedules set. Damon Mullis from OR called the office at the Capitol and we were told the website was a mistake and the time and day we had was correct. Whew! A lot had already gone into planning! As the weekend rolled around and we’re getting close to our scheduled departure, we received a call: the meeting has been changed to Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. Great. I immediately get to work swapping work days and rebooking my stay. A coincidence when there was already conflicting info put out? I’ll let you, the reader, decide. 

The day was finally here. I stared up in amazement at the sheer size of the building and thought of the age and history of this architecture before me. This is where big things happen – the heart of our state government. After awkwardly making it through the security checkpoint, I saw before me hundreds of suits dashing around, the hustle and bustle of our great leaders in action. I was getting so nervous! I had never been to the capitol or been a part of any proceedings.

The committee meeting was called into session. It opened with a prayer led by Senator Jason Anavitarte from District 8 in metro Atlanta. I thought that was a lovely way to open meetings.

As we were seated, that feeling of loveliness was quickly replaced by irritation. It was announced that only one of us would speak. We started discussion on who, quickly trying to correlate and combine speeches into one, as there could be just one voice for several opinions.

We asked Senator Lee Anderson, the committee chair, if we could take LESS time and get only 20 seconds to speak each resulting in only one minute used. We were immediately denied.

We then asked if one spoke could we all stand together to show we all came in opposition. That was shut down right away. “No,” we were told again.

One person two minutes. Finally we conceded and chose a speaker.

Senator Frank Ginn interjected to tell the committee chair that we had all come a long way and he thought we should at least be heard. He stated that this was an important decision and he wanted to hear what we had to say.

But, again – no. Minds were already made up, it seemed.

The meeting started with Representative Ron Stephens, the sponsor of HB 1146. Accompanying him was Mark Smith from Water Utility Management, a private water supplier who will benefit from the bill. An opening statement by Stephens included the words: “We’ve done all the planning correctly to make sure all the resources are there. Everything from infrastructure to roads. We’ve done things with water and sewer. The one thing we forgot about was workforce development.”

This is an interesting statement when considering most projects of this magnitude. In other cases, the infrastructure and water and sewer is generally laid out first. This has not at all been the case with the Hyundai project.

It seems that “Get building – figure it out later” has been the rushed mentality with everything relating to this project.

And back up a second if you will. You “forgot” about workforce housing? Or just figured you could rush through legislation when needed because the area has no more water capacity and is already facing a housing shortage?

How do we know these new workforce housing developments are even going to be used for the Hyundai workforce? The average salaries being put out by media states somewhere around $57,000 a year average employee salary. Can those people afford a $250,000-$300,000 dollar home? Not likely. 

Senator Jones asked Mark Smith “Can you define workforce housing?” Smith answered “Individual developers have different ideas, I don’t think there’s a clear answer on that.”

Short answer, NO. No, you cannot define that… yet, here you are pushing legislation that undercuts counties who need to sell their water supplies to make up borrowed funding and repay loans and in your own words “Prevents the county from having a veto power over private systems.”

We know where there’s money to be made there’s corruption. Should water, a basic right to life, be privatized and monopolized by private supply systems? This bill could leave struggling families not able to afford water with zero other options.

Nineteen minutes and 51 seconds. That’s how much time was given to these TWO people in favor. What happened to the time constraint? 

Next up was Ben Taylor from Bryan County and Trent Thompson from Thomas and Hutton. 

“We’re not here to oppose legislation, we’re here to update you.” Taylor said.

They spoke about the $120 million in GEFA loans, loans that Bryan County needs water sales to repay. They spoke in favor, saying it was critical for the county to work with and partner with private suppliers.

Next up was Pam Brunette from Georgia Association of Water speaking in opposition. She outlined that HB 1146 contradicts the policies that are already in place because of failures in past partnering of local and privatized systems. She stated that the chances of this going well are slim and that they are supposed to assure the known mistakes of the past are not repeated.

Alas, the time is finally here for our group representation. Or so I thought. To my surprise, they motioned to vote on the bill. What was happening!? Right in front of us they voted 9-4 in favor of HB 1146. 

To sum up, over forty minutes given to those in favor while the people affected most, the residents, were silenced and not allowed to speak.

Bryan County signed up to speak in opposition but then spoke in favor, I’m sure that was an accidental oversight.

The message from Senator Lee Anderson was clear: don’t come to the Capitol, we already have our agenda.

After we left, they spent nineteen minutes discussing a summer camp, all time that was delegated to the discussion of HB 1146. We were not heard or given even 20 seconds while everywhere we turn our taxpayer dollars are spent on more and more of what we do not want with less and less representation.

My experience at the Capitol, seeing how government hearings work, left me feeling like I had a dagger shoved through my patriotic heart.

This bill allows private utilities to outcompete public water utilities, bypass consistency with local government planning, ignore affordable housing designs, and sell their access of Georgia’s limited drinking supply to the highest bidder.

Coastal advocacy organization, One Hundred Miles, and Ogeechee Riverkeepers oppose HB 1146 along with ACCG and GMA. Science for Georgia would have reminded us that NASA’s data shows the East Coast is sinking due to over use of the aquifers.

Anderson was not able to be reached for comment.

1 Comment

  1. It is decussating to know that our people in the capital are no different than the people in Washington. They are all getting paid a lot to make this Mega plant go through. It makes me sick to know I voted for some of these people. It really doesn’t matter what you do us the tax payers have NO SAY SO! It should be the people voting on things because the GOOD OLD BOY SYSTEM IS STILL IN PLACE. May God have mercy on these people in the Capital soul’s! It is so sad.

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