The 2018 legislative session will begin January 8 with everything on the table from education and transportation to possible incentives for an Amazon headquarters and Civil War monument legislative changes.
The DeKalb Chamber and Dunwoody Perimeter Chambers of Commerce hosted a legislative preview and forum Tuesday with State Senator Fran Millar, R-40 and State Senator Elena Parent, D-42 as well as State Representatives Michele Henson, D-86, Howard Mosby, D-83, Mary Margaret Oliver, D-82, Pam Stephenson, D-90 and Meagan Hanson, R-80. At the forum, senators and representatives talked topics that will likely be discussed during the 2018 session.
The following includes excerpts from the discussion.
Parent: “This is probably a conversation that will happen during the electoral season. The regional governance piece, I believe, is critical to getting state funds and actually accomplishing our goals. Something else I believe is we need a governor who is strongly pushing for it. We have very fragmented government all over the region and we really need to have government structures in place and people leading to actually get things done. Until we have a governor committed to it, I fear it won’t happen.”
Millar: “I’m optimistic, but I don’t think you’ll ever see state funding for mass transit unless you have regional and state support.”
On the Religious Liberty Bill:
Mosby: “I don’t know how many different ways to say no. This is an extremely dangerous (bill) to our business environment. We want (DeKalb) to be the number one place in the state to do business and that would be the number one thing to destroy that tagline. I personally don’t see a good reason for it to come up.”
Millar: “This is basically a republican primary issue, it will be brought up by some people in the republican primary and that’s as far as it will go. I don’t see it going anywhere in the general assembly, and the governor has made his position quite clear. I think who to watch with this particular issue will be Washington D.C.”
On offering Amazon incentives:
Hanson: “It’s important to consider what it looks like now, what will it look like in the future and how much will our state benefit?”
Parent: “The question is if this project brings to the state something worth more than incentives? We have some very big players in retail that are not at all pleased with the idea of Amazon coming here, Home Depot being one of them. It will be interesting to watch that conversation unfold. I’m not of the belief that you race to bottom as far as giving away whatever it takes.”
On DeKalb’s SPLOST funding:
Stephenson: “We must look at regional transportation and how people are being moved from one place to another. I don’t have a bus that comes anywhere near where I live. Many parts of it are complex and it is not just an issue for urban areas but for other areas in the state. The citizens of DeKalb have put in money for many years and it needs to move forward.”
Oliver: “DeKalb has failed to fund transit. Emory is trying to get annexed into the city of Atlanta for transit because they see it as their only hope. DeKalb doesn’t have a good plan moving forward to get money, and we’re looking for better leadership from our commissioners.”
On Education and the new Chief Turnaround Officer:
Parent: “It will be interesting to see the work he does. A lot of us welcome the focus on struggling schools and we also welcome Superintendent Green and what he has implemented. The Chief Turnaround Officer can be something we’re trying but if it doesn’t yield results and there is a better way to go down line, that’s what it will be.”
Fran: “I want to give Superintendent Green credit on the progress already made. He and I have had our disagreements on certain topics but that being said, what he has done with failing schools so far, launching a new curriculum, and even seeing ineffective principals being replaced is encouraging. As far as the Chief Turnaround Officer, we’ll see how it plays out in the long run. Personally, I’ve been very disappointed [with the] state when it comes to education.”
On Civil War Monuments:
Oliver: Elena Parent and I held a press conference last week about pre-filing a bill to draft legislation of authority returned to cities and counties as state laws prohibit communities from making decisions about Civil War Monuments currently.”
Mosby: “I think we need to pay attention and do something because there is activism around this issue and it can’t be ignored. I do believe there will be enough interest for this bill to move.”