North DeKalb lawmakers plan to be busy after the state Legislature convenes Jan. 13.
They’re proposing a stack of new laws that, if approved, could create new cities, amend the state constitution to allow “new cities” to start school systems, amend Dunwoody’s charter to allow the city to collect money to finance a fire department, should it ever want one.
The problem? Lawmakers may run out of time.
“It’s going to be a very compressed session, just from a time standpoint,” said Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody).
The session still will cover the usual 40 legislative days, but those days likely will be squeezed into a shorter piece of the real-world calendar because of elections this year, Taylor said. Preliminary discussions among lawmakers indicate the session could end as soon as mid-to-late March, he said.
“It’s going to be a blink,” he said. “It’s going to be March before we know it. … I think a lot of things are going to be left by the wayside. That’s just a factor of time.”
Taylor said he plans to spend much of his legislative energy promoting H.R. 486, a proposal he introduced last year calling for a constitutional amendment to allow cities created since 2005 to start their own school systems or combine with adjacent cities to start school systems. The bill would apply to 16 cities, he said, including Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs.
A recent study financed by the city of Dunwoody found a city school system there could operate with an annual surplus of nearly $30 million. A group of Dunwoody parents organized a group called Georgians for Local Area School Systems, or GLASS, to lobby legislators to approve H.R. 486.
Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, said he’s not sure there will be enough time for the resolution to be approved this session.
“It certainly will receive some debate this year. I fully support it. But because it’s a constitutional amendment, it has a steep uphill climb. It may be the kind of proposal that takes more than one year to pass. It could take multiple years to pass,” Jacobs said.
Taylor’s fellow Dunwoody Republican, Sen. Fran Millar, says he’s working on legislation to make the DeKalb CEO race nonpartisan and to allow homeowners to record property tax appeal hearings.
He’s also promoting S.B. 270, one of several bills that would call for an election to create a new city in DeKalb County. Miller’s proposal would create a city south of Brookhaven that would be called Lakeside.
Other proposals would create cities in the same general area that would be called Briarcliff or Tucker. Citizens groups supporting each of the three cities have paid for studies that have determined the cities would be financially feasible.
Millar has said he thinks the Lakeside proposal has the best chance of making it through the Legislature. “We’ve always given people the right to vote and I hope we still will,” he said. “We’ve lost our way as Republicans if we won’t do that.”
Jacobs also believes that if any of the proposals will be approved this year, it will most likely be the bill to create the city of Lakeside.
“I would think that Lakeside has the best shot of the three proposals but the overlapping nature of the three proposals makes passage for any of them a dicier proposition, especially with the legislative session being shortened this year,” Jacobs said. “I don’t support the calls for a moratorium [on creating new cities], but I do think we need to be sensitive to what the will of citizens in affected communities south of I-85 truly is.”
Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, also represents some of the area that has been draw into maps for proposed new cities in DeKalb. Holcomb said the competing cityhood proposals “will be an important part of the conversation for members of the DeKalb delegation.”
“Those [proposals] need to be worked out. People have worked very hard in their communities to move these agendas forward. The public needs to be heard and we need to make smart decisions on those proposals.”
Holcomb said he will be sponsoring legislation this year to authorize B-Corporations in Georgia.
“B-corporations are a type of corporate structure that allows entrepreneurs… to not only make profit, but provide a social or environmental good,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb said many other states already offer that corporate structure, which is popular among some young entrepreneurs. “We want to give as many alternatives as possible to our entrepreneurs and business generators,” Holcomb said.
Jacobs, who is the chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, said the committee will continue to look at changes to the mass transit organization this year.
“We will be back this year with proposed changes to the MARTA act. I anticipate that there will be a push for fewer of the issues than we have seen in prior legislative sessions because MARTA has handled some of the issues raised in previous legislation of their own recognizance,” Jacobs said.
For example, Jacobs said MARTA has taken steps to privatize some of its departments to save money, as recommended in a recent audit. So Jacobs said mandating that privatization may not be necessary.
Jacobs said the MARTA changes were approved by the House of Representatives last year. Those bills now await approval by the Senate this year.
There will also be many issues of statewide importance to tackle in the upcoming session.
“There’s no shortage of big issues for 2014,” Holcomb said. “We’ll see important legislation on health care, debates on education policy and we’ll also continue dialogue about the spending of the state’s revenues.”
Jacobs predicts the proposals for new cities and school systems will get the most attention locally.
“Cityhood and independent schools are definitely hot topics in 2014 for DeKalb County,” Jacobs said. “But the nature of this year’s legislative session is that it will be short. And that makes passage of more some of the larger local issues more treacherous.”
Melissa Weinman contributed to this report.