The 2020 Georgia General Assembly starts Jan. 13, and when it comes to local legislation that could be introduced, the watchwords will be affordable housing, transportation and gun violence, the area’s lawmakers said.
District 51 State Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, who represents parts of Sandy Springs and Roswell, said he is crafting a bill to protect affordable housing in his district and possibly elsewhere in the state.
“The way I’d like to protect affordable housing is to ensure that local governments don’t do anything to threaten the affordable and workforce housing we already have,” he said. “I also think local governments have a responsibility to take the lead on creating new affordable housing stock, but in the near term, we may want to look at a state legislative measure to prevent any interference with the stock we already have.”
McLaurin added affordable housing was a topic of discussion at the 2019 session but no bills were filed regarding that issue then. He also said vaping, especially among teenagers, is another hot topic locally and statewide.
“I do think the state Legislature will take a hard look at how to regulate vaping,” McLaurin said. “(District 50 State Rep.) Angelika Kausche (D-Johns Creek) and I did a town hall on that (topic) in Johns Creek a few weeks ago, in which we heard from different stakeholders. I think there will be a number of possible avenues to ensure vapes stay out of the hands of kids and that they are not too great of a public safety risk.”
Like McLaurin, District 54 State Rep. Betsy Holland, D-Atlanta, who represents part of Buckhead, said she’s hopeful some affordable housing legislation is approved.
“It will lead to a discussion of income-based senior tax cuts, (decreases in) property taxes and the incentives that are given to developers,” she said. “We may not get to legislation in 2020 but I think we’ll make progress by starting the conversation. It’s funny to hear about it in Buckhead, but we have not enough affordable housing units for our workforce. And (another issue is) the seniors who can no longer afford the property taxes to stay in their homes.”
Holland also said she hopes to have at least one of the still-active gun violence-related bills that were introduced in the 2019 session approved in 2020. None got a committee hearing in 2019, she said.
“I think the one thing we can accomplish at the state level that will impact a problem we’re having (in Atlanta) is gun violence,” Holland said. “There are several pieces I signed on to that are still in the hopper that would make it harder for criminals to own firearms. Passing that legislation is one of the things the state can do to reduce crime on a local level.”
District 52 State Rep. Deb Silcox, R-Sandy Springs, who represents parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, said she hopes to pass a bill to provide the Atlanta-region Transit Link (The ATL) with more state funding.
“The ATL has asked for a substantially larger budget for their growth and expansion, which is needed, because we need The ATL to work with MARTA and other transportation partners to develop a regional transportation system for a 13-county area,” she said.
“Despite the governor calling for budget cuts since the receipts for taxes would be lower, he said K-12 education, Medicaid and transportation would be exempt from those cuts, and I hope we can give The ATL the budget they would ask for so they can develop this regional plan.”
District 80 State Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, who represents that city and parts of Atlanta, Chamblee, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, said he’s focused on fixing the DeKalb Board of Ethics.
The board hasn’t met for over a year because, after voters in 2015 approved a referendum to appoint seven members to an ethics committee and reform the board, a lawsuit filed by former County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton aimed to stop private groups from appointing members to the committee, leaving some seats empty. That lawsuit was upheld in 2018 by the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled the appointment process was unconstitutional.
“In the 2019 session, the DeKalb delegation put forth and passed a bill that would fix the process, but it also had about 12 changes that essentially gutted the ethics board,” Wilson said. “It was on the most recent ballot (in November) and was overwhelmingly rejected by DeKalb voters. …
“Now we’re back to square one so we can fix the appointment process to get the board back up and running. The bill I’ve introduced would tackle that issue alone. Any other issues we address on the ethics board would be addressed in a separate bill.”
Wilson also said the push to create the cities of Greenhaven and Vista Grove in DeKalb has been renewed, thanks to a study the county and others conducted.
District 56 State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who represents parts or all of Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton, Mountain Park, Roswell, Sandy Springs and Woodstock, said he is pushing for bills on taxes and school safety.
“I will have legislation measuring all tax breaks and incentives, improving school security and assuring Georgia stays the best place to live, work and play,” he said. “Another focus will be a senior citizen tax exemption for school taxes.”
On a statewide level, local legislators said the hot topics will be the budget and gambling. Holland said while approving the budget is the Legislature’s only mandate, passing one that includes some “severe cuts” the governor has recommended will be a challenge.
“It’s our responsibly to meet the recommended cuts without losing those critical services for our citizens,” she said. “ People are working pretty hard to make sure services don’t get lost as we try to meet those goals.”
Said Wilson, “Primarily we’re going to see a focus on the budget, and we’ve already seen some battle lines drawn between the governor and the House leadership. So I expect that’s going to occupy most of the session.”
Regarding gambling, there are four types of gambling the state could approve laws for: sports betting, online gambling, horseracing and casino gambling, with the first two and last two grouped together.
“I think we’ll hear a lot about whether we’ll put a constitutional amendment on the (November) ballot on whether we’ll allow legalized gambling in Georgia,” Holland said.
Said Wilson, “I do know there is some support among the Republican leadership to get that issue on the ballot.”
Also, Silcox said she hopes to get approval for a bill on women’s health.
“I served on the (House) Maternal Mortality Study Committee, and I’m hopeful we’ll have some legislation to improve the health of women in our state,” she said.
McLaurin said there are also some bills that could have negative impacts statewide.
“Unfortunately, some of the legislation I’ve heard that the majority is considering is off the mark and more of a distraction from the kitchen table issues we should be focusing on,” he said.
“For example, there have been a couple of bills pre-filed or announced that would bear on the rights of transgender individuals. Neither bill is aimed at recognizing their diversity or autonomy, but both bills instead seek to destroy those things. That seems not only malicious but a waste of time.
“I think there will be a discussion about victims’ rights, particularly victims of horrific injuries. There will be a push by the (Georgia) Chamber of Commerce to limit the ability of victims who suffer personal injuries to recover damages for the wrongs done to them. The chamber will push for this claiming it’s better for business if we limit victims’ rights, but we already have had the number one business climate in the country for several years running. So it doesn’t seem clear what the need is for these proposed reforms.”
Albers said other statewide top priorities will be the economy, traffic solutions and public safety.