While a bill to create a city in north DeKalb County has flown through the Legislature, other bills drafted in response to the cityhood movement weren’t so lucky.
The 30th day of the 40-day session of the Georgia General Assembly, known as Crossover Day, was scheduled for March 7. Crossover Day is like doomsday for fledgling legislation. Bills that don’t make it from one chamber to the other by this day won’t have enough time to become laws – at least this year.
Two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives this year in reaction to the proposal to create a new city, which originally was to be called Brookhaven. The name of the proposed new city later was changed to Ashford, but supporters of the city say they hope to change it back to Brookhaven before the proposal passes the state Senate.
Rep. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, has urged lawmakers to delay approving the new city in favor of studying the impact it would have on DeKalb County. Parent, who represents a portion of the area that would be included in the new city, introduced a bill that aimed to change the process for creating new cities. Though it didn’t make it this session, she feels like she was able to get the ball rolling for next year.
“It’s a big piece of legislation. Things like that take time to work on, you need to get stakeholders in the conversation,” Parent said. “This would be a big change, there would be a lot of stakeholders and it’s going to need conversations and work. And that’s fair.”
Her proposal, House Bill 830, would change the process of incorporating cities to, among other things, require more study into the financial viability of proposed cities and how they would affect counties and adjacent cities. It would also require new cities to receive consent of existing cities nearby before incorporating.
Parent said Mark Hamilton, chairman of the House Government Affairs Committee that recently approved creation of the new city in the Brookhaven area, is interested in talking more about Parent’s bill.
“He recognizes some of the problems we have with the incorporation of new cities,” Parent said. “If there’s a domino effect that people feel they need to annex or incorporate to grab commercial property, that’s not good.”
Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, who sponsored the bill to create the new city in north DeKalb, said he takes issue with Parent’s suggestion that new cities seek consent from surrounding municipalities before incorporating.
“It doesn’t reform how cities are formed. It prevents cities from being formed in areas such as DeKalb County,” Jacobs said. “The notion that in order to incorporate Brookhaven we need to get permission from Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Chamblee, Doraville and the city of Atlanta is absurd. I’m sure [Atlanta] Mayor [Kasim] Reed will get right on it.”
House Bill 1090, introduced by Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, aimed to gather all unincorporated areas in DeKalb County and form a city of DeKalb.
Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, said the bill didn’t have widespread support among DeKalb legislators. “Even our delegation had a hard time swallowing that one,” Taylor said.
Taylor said bills introduced by Democrats in the Legislature have an extra hurdle to jump to make it past Crossover Day.
“This is a partisan process. Being in the minority, it’s a lot harder to get your stuff passed than being in the majority,” Taylor said. “[Republicans] have almost a super-majority in the House and we do have a super-majority in the Senate.”
Taylor said House Speaker David Ralston also told legislators he wanted to cut down on the number of bills introduced this year, regardless of political affiliation.
“If it doesn’t have a real meaningful effect, we’re not going to entertain it,” Taylor said. “They’re really holding up anything that’s not perfected or not needed.”
The Legislature has also moved more quickly this year, condensing the 40 meeting days into a shorter amount of time.
“Crossover Day the first week of March is almost unheard of,” Taylor said. “It’s a pretty ambitious schedule.”