State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, and State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, joined Rogers on stage at the Clarence Brown Conference Center taking questions and comments from the audience on topics ranging from immigration and welfare to education and tax reform.
Monday's forum was the latest in a series of Georgia Solution Summits conducted across the state led by Senate Republicans.
"What's missing in government everywhere is hearing from people who aren't paid to come to the capitol to tell us what they think. So, we decided in the senate that we were going to go all across the state of Georgia and have these type of meetings," said Rogers, referring to the influence of lobbyists. "What we really want is to hear what you think we need to be doing to improve the state of Georgia."
That sentiment was shared by Christian Stevens, a volunteer activist in attendance Monday who regularly visits state leadership on behalf of those he supports.
"I think it's great that we didn't have a single lobbyist in this forum, we had real citizens with real concerns -- real taxpayers," Stevens said. "I tried to come to many of them before but this is the first one that met my schedule.
"It's about protecting your freedoms and making sure that this country doesn't go broke before [my kids] get old enough to enjoy the freedoms that I fought to protect in the Army."
The Georgia Solutions Summit began with questions from the audience and was directed by suggestions from those in attendance. Heath emphasized the importance of public participation and how the voting public can affect government action.
"This is very important. I think every bill that I've introduced has come either as a direct idea from a constituent or an idea that has followed from a conversation with a constituent," Heath said.
The first issue to come forth in conversation was immigration and Georgia's new law strengthening the state's ability to enforce federal immigration laws. Concerns were raised about the law's impact on agriculture, the state's largest industry. Jobs currently filled by immigrant workers are a point of conflict during a time with high unemployment, yet many Georgia farmers have been unable to staff positions with U.S. citizens, a problem Heath links to unemployment and the welfare system.
"The reason that we have an illegal immigration problem in America is because of our welfare system. If Americans were filling these jobs, any of these jobs, there wouldn't be opportunities for these foreigners. They work very hard to get here and they go to great risks to get here to do jobs that, in a lot of cases, folks here do not want," Heath said. "If we'll solve that problem, get people back to work here, those jobs won't be available for illegals."
Speaking to the welfare system and social services provided by the government, both state and federal, Loudermilk shared a historical perspective on the system's failings.
"The real problem is the government is doing things the government wasn't originally suppose to do," Loudermilk said, emphasizing that bureaucracy limits the government's efficiency. "What you see is the result of the government getting involved in something it shouldn't have been doing to start with."
Items discussed were largely conservative in nature and reducing government oversight was a common theme for suggestions seen Monday night. Rogers informally polled the room for a vote for or against reducing state income tax in favor of reintroducing Georgia's 4 percent grocery sales tax. Many of those present expressed a great interest in moving toward a "flat" or "fair" tax system based on consumption.
Other matters discussed were education, transportation and water rights. The state senate has created a website where constituents unable to attend local meetings may send their comments and suggestions. The website is www.georgiasolutions.org. Questions, comments and suggestions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.