As state lawmakers prepare to return to the General Assembly in January, DeKalb lawmakers made a few predictions during a Nov. 14 panel discussion hosted by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber.
The panel discussion was moderated by Greg Bluestein, political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
All panelists agreed the 2018 session will likely be very short due to it being an election year and several legislators are running for higher office.
Some key takeaways:
The recent meeting with mayors and city leaders along I-285 at the top-end of the Perimeter to discuss the future of public transit was greeted overwhelmingly with approval by state lawmakers.
“It’s wonderful to hear the mayors had a conversation,” said Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven), who added she thinks such a meeting should have happened long ago.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who serves on the 14-member state transit commission formed by House Speaker David Ralston this year to study Georgia’s transit needs and analyze ways to plan and fund those needs, said she was pleased with how leadership was coming together to find ways to fund transit.
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) added he was optimistic to see something happen soon with transit funding, but noted he didn’t think there would be state funding without regional governance of that funding. He added that DeKalb and Fulton counties have long paid for MARTA funding and it was time for other counties to pay.
“The regional governance piece is crucial to getting state funds,” State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) agreed. Parent said she believes a very important state leader, such as the governor, needed to make a public commitment to ensure funding of transit.
“Until some really important leader commits to it I fear nothing is going to happen,” she said.
Millar said that any new transit will not include heavy rail. He said he didn’t believe the long-talked about plans for heavy rail to Stonecrest would ever happen due to the cost, unless Amazon does relocate its second headquarters to the city.
Oliver said part of the reason Emory wants to be annexed into the city of Atlanta is because of its commitment to fund public transit. DeKalb County does not have a good plan to get public transit dollars, she said, and she was looking for better leadership on the DeKalb Commission.
Civil War monuments
Parent and Oliver expect to file a bill that would give local governments the authority to remove or relocate Civil War monuments. State law currently prohibits that. Oliver said at the panel discussion the bill is expected to be pre-filed this week.
The DeKalb County Commission approved a resolution 6-1 last month asking its legal counsel to find a way to remove or relocate a Confederate memorial located outside the former DeKalb Courthouse in the Decatur square. But who owns the memorial — the county or a private entity — is still being researched. DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester of Dunwoody cast the lone no vote.
Millar repeated previous comments that he does not think anything will happen in the upcoming session on Civil War monuments, other than a study commission possibly being formed.
He added he thought the issue would be debated heavily because it is an election year.
“You’ll see a lot of play on it,” he said.
Rep. Howard Mosby (D-Atlanta) said there has been a groundswell of activism surrounding Civil War monuments that cannot be ignored, but added a great deal of work must be done before any legislation is passed.
‘Religious liberty’ bill
For the past several sessions, GOP legislators have brought up a “religious liberty” bill. In 2016, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. The bill, some say, is discriminatory, especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of Georgia. Another argument against a “religious liberty” bill is that such a bill would harm the state’s economic development as corporations embrace LGBT equality for their employees. Numerous corporations in Georgia have also spoken out against such a bill.
But the bill is expected to come up again in 2018, said Bluestein, who asked if the panelists believed such a bill would hurt the state’s businesses.
“This is a complex issue,” Mosby said. “I don’t know how many different ways you can say no [to the bill]. This is extremely dangerous. We tout our selves as the No. 1 state to do business. This [bill] is the No. 1 thing we can do to destroy that slogan.”
Millar, who voted in favor of the bill in 2016, said he would not support a “religious freedom” bill this year, calling such a bill “DOA [dead on arrival].”
“I think it’s a Republican primary issue. That’s about as far as it will go,” he said. “I don’t see it going anywhere in Georgia this year. The governor made the right decision.”
Millar said he thought some parts of the bill were good, such as allowing religious adoption agencies deny same-sex couples from adopting a child because they believe homosexuality is a sin. But that also opened to the door to legal issues, he added.
Oliver said the attempt during the last session to update the adoption code failed due to Republicans trying to add “religious liberty” language to it in the final minutes of the General Assembly’s last day.
“This is a very bad symptom of how destructive these debates can be,” she said.
Incentives for Amazon
Bluestein said the state submitted the High Street site in Dunwoody and the Doraville GM site as potential sites for a new Amazon headquarters as part of a nationwide attempt by states to attract the corporate giant. He asked what levels of incentives are acceptable.
Parent said an analysis of a project including incentives should determine what that project brings to state and that it that amount should be more than incentives. “We should not be lining the pockets of a company that already has a lot of money,” she said.
She also noted that several big retailers, including Home Depot, are not pleased about Amazon possibly coming to metro Atlanta.