Monday, January 10, 2022

General Assembly to consider DeKalb County commission map, new cities, guns and ballots

DeKalb County lawmakers expect election-year politics to dominate this year's General Assembly session, which will consider new county commission district maps and proposals for two new cities.

"I anticipate that many of the issues that we will be deliberating upon will be those issues that put the majority party in good stead with their base because this is an election year," State Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) told an online delegation town hall meeting on Saturday.

"There's probably going to be at least two cityhood issues that will have to be analyzed and deliberated upon and discussed. I would encourage you to stay active, get involved, let your state senator and state representative know how you feel about these issues because that carries the day," Mitchell said.

A proposal for a new city in south DeKalb County, first launched in 2014, remains active. Previously called Greenhaven, proponents are now calling it the City of DeKalb. There is also a proposal for a city encompassing Atlanta's Buckhead shopping and business district.

"The effort to have Buckhead secede from the City of Atlanta is on the table," State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) said, adding that she assumed most DeKalb legislators "would be adamantly against that for a variety of reasons." She said Georgia's Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker have "been a bit lukewarm to that, but it remains a very dangerous issue and, frankly, it's been over a decade since the state should have revamped its approach to the creation of new cities and put a better process in place. This is yet another example of why that should have been done." 

Legislators will also consider revamped DeKalb County commission districts. The Board of Commissioners approved new district maps without revealing them publicly or allowing the public to comment on them directly at a commission meeting. Critics say the proposed maps would divide county neighborhoods while favoring existing cities.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), the chair of the DeKalb Senate delegation, acknowledged the county's proposed maps. "We appreciate their input but the responsibility of redistricting and reapportioning in DeKalb County lies squarely on the state legislature and not the county commission," he said. 

"It's the delegation's responsibility to redistrict the seven commission districts for DeKalb County," Jones said. "We have members of DeKalb County government that have a lot more members in the district than some of the DeKalb County government officials on the south side of the county."

Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), chair of the county's House delegation, encouraged DeKalb County residents to provide comments to the county's state legislators on the "tentative" proposed maps. "Our process is just starting, your opportunity to weigh in is invited," she said. "All of us will be involved."

Lawmakers said Republicans can be expected to make further changes to Georgia election law, building on last year's legislation that restricted the locations of ballot drop boxes and increased state influence on local election boards.

"They're literally creating cheating empires," Mitchell said. "There's going to be an attempt, primarily through the local legislation process, to change the non-partisan nature of these election boards. They started last session and I expect to see much more of that."

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, will "tack much harder to the right in order to try to win the primary," Parent said. He is "now pushing for the elimination of all [ballot] drop boxes, which was not a position he was taking last year," she said.          

Teacher pay raises will be on the agenda, as well as mental healthcare reform and gambling, such online sports betting, destination resorts and horse racing, said Mitchell.

He said permit-free gun carry legislation will be considered. "This is a big issue to the base of the majority party," Mitchell said. "There are those who believe that you ought not to have to apply and have a permit to carry a gun in public. It's an incredible notion when you think about it."