Brass moving up in leadership

January 7, 2018

As published in Newnan Times:

As he begins his second year as a state senator, Matt Brass, R-Newnan, will be chairman of a committee.

Brass has been named chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee. The committee won’t be too busy yet, but after the 2020 Census, the committee will be responsible for redrawing state and federal election districts.

Coweta’s Mitch Seabaugh, who previously represented District 28 in the Georgia Senate, was chairman of the committee during redistricting after the 2010 Census.  The 2018 Georgia General Assembly session begins Monday.

Brass is vice chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and Secretary of the State and Local Government Operations Committee. He also sits on the Natural Resources and Environment and on the Education and Youth committees.

It’s quite an accomplishment for a sophomore senator to move into leadership positions so quickly. That may have had something to do with Brass’ former job – as a field rep and then as chief of staff for former Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, also a Cowetan.

Before Westmoreland ran for Congress, he was a powerful state representative who was minority leader when Republicans were still in the minority.

“When I go up to the capitol, I love it when people bring up Lynn’s name,” Brass said. Westmoreland is one of the reasons the Republicans took over the House and eventually the rest of Georgia’s state government, Brass said.

Brass said he’s often asked how Westmoreland is doing in retirement and that people tell him stories about the the things Westmoreland did for them.

“It’s fun, because I got to learn under that guy for five-and-a half years,” Brass said.

Brass said the Georgia General Assembly is quite different from the U.S. Congress. The biggest difference, he said, is that on the federal level, the main division is between the Republicans and the Democrats. But at the state capitol, it’s between the House and the Senate.

“That shocked me – I was not prepared for that,” Brass said. He said he’s not sure why that dynamic exists but he wants to work on building relationships between members of the House and Senate.

In his first year, Brass introduced a bill and saw what can happen to a bill when the other chamber decides to use it as a “vehicle.” Brass’ bill created a class of hearing aids that could be sold over the counter. He worked with the Georgia Academy of Audiologists to craft it.

“From my initial bill working its way through committee and working with them and making amendments and changes, it worked into a really good bill,” he said.

It passed the Senate 55 to 1.

And then it went to the House. A House committee stripped everything about hearing aids out of Brass’s bill and replaced it with language from a bill dealing with optometrists. The optometrist bill had stalled in committee.

The bill ended up passing, but it was all about eyes and not about ears.

Brass remembered presenting the new version of the bill on the last day of the 2017 session, known as “sine die.”

“My opening line was, “All right, i’m going to go over the changes. If you’ll go to line 16 and look at the word ‘or’ – everything above that has changed and everything below that has changed.’”

Though the bill passed, Gov. Nathan Deal ended up halting implementation of the optometrist changes. Brass won’t be re-introducing the hearing aid issue, as it is now being taken up on the federal level.

In the 2018 session, Brass predicts that some things will come out about sexual harassment at the capitol.

Other issues include improving broadband access for rural Georgia and some changes to the “certificate of need” process that regulates how hospitals and other medical facilities can expand and add services.

“We’ve got hospitals out here wanting to add cardiac units but they have to guarantee X number of patients per year,” Brass said, adding that those requirements might be a bit too high for rural hospitals.

“We need to look at making some of those changes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just tweaking numbers.”

Brass said he thinks some regulation of the expansion process is necessary but “you’ve got to be able to give them the ability to grow so that they can meet demand. I don’t feel like CON is keeping up with demand,” he said.

There’s some talk about casino gambling again. The arguments in favor of casino gambling are that it will help economic development and put more funding in place for education.

“We’re already the No. 1 state to do business,” Brass said, adding that right now, the Georgia Lottery is returning record amounts of money for education.

Medical cannabis needs to be made available to families, according to Brass, and the federal government needs to move marijuana from “Schedule One” to “Schedule Two.”

“That would solve all of our problems,” Brass said.

Because of all the state elections coming up in November, Brass said he doesn’t foresee a lot of action on the cannabis issue at the state level this year.

Brass said he is looking forward to the second year of his first session of the legislature.

“It’s been cool to represent the area where I grew up,” he said. “I love my country. I love my state, and I sure love this county and the area. I love the people here, and I love meeting new people. I don’t necessarily love hearing people’s problems, but I love trying to help fix those problems.”

Brass wants people to know that, if they have a government issue, especially a problem with a state agency, they can call his office or email him.

“We’ll fix it if we can. If we can’t, we’ll at least give you the right information,” he said.