I enjoy connecting with constituents between sessions. This summer, I have met with groups and helped constituents who have reached out about a wide variety of topics. Please invite me to meet with your group at the Capitol or your location or on Zoom.
The July 4th parade in my neighborhood is a great place to gather, celebrate, and kick off summer. I am hoping our fall festivals, Decatur Book Festival, and Halloween dog costume events in Emory Village will go forward!
Congregation Beth Jacob on LaVista Road received a grant for designing a plan to rebuild its community during Covid. Congratulations!
Shortly after the end of the Session, I toured MARTA with MARTA officials and employees. Understanding MARTA is fundamental to my work as Chair of MARTOC.
I am proud to serve as a member of the Board of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, here gathered for our September Board meeting. I went to St. Simons Island earlier in the summer where the Golden Ray wreck and salvage operation continues to damage the environment. The Riverkeeper has been involved in some important work there.
The summers of state non-election years (state elections are in even numbered years and municipal elections are in odd numbered years) are all different, but for me they usually focus on study committees and preparations for the next year’s Session, which begins January 10, 2022.
This summer is unusual because of Covid—which changes everything — and because of the looming Reapportionment Special Session that the Governor probably will call to be in November—my guess is the second week of November. The Governor also may choose to place other issues and bills on the Special Session agenda, and there are many rumors about his intentions. We do not know when he will call the Special Session.
Throughout the summer, I have been working on the Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood and on a new draft of legislation for the Commission on Behavioral Health. I am appointed to both of those legislative entities, and I believe these work efforts are of interest to constituents of HD 82.
The House Special Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood has now met three times. I was most interested in our committee's meeting last week because it was devoted to the impact of annexations on schools, which was the subject of HBs 23, 24, and 66 I filed last year. In short, the law provides no opportunity for schools to be notified or object when cities annex property, even though that annexation may impact school systems. This was the subject of a protracted dispute between Atlanta City Schools and DeKalb County School District that was only finally resolved last year by local legislation, SB 209.
I assisted the Study Committee Chair to plan the hearing agenda for last Thursday (all hearings are live streamed for you to watch) focused on predictable conflicts and unanswered questions between annexing cities and school districts, and there was detailed testimony about the recent experiences of Decatur City Schools, Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County School District, and Hall County School District. The difficult negotiations, mediations, and litigation that resulted in passage of Senate local bills 293 and 209 also were discussed.
The chaos created by proponents for a new Buckhead City was both discussed and intentionally avoided throughout the morning. As the committee learned, the issue of where students go will be front and center in the proposed de-annexation of Buckhead from the City of Atlanta. New cities are barred by the Georgia Constitution from creating their own public school systems, and if a Buckhead de-annexation were successful, students in the new city would no longer be eligible for Atlanta Public Schools.
We have seen all this firsthand in HD 82. You will recall the City of Atlanta annexation of Emory University property a few years ago which called into question where children go to school and where the property tax money for schools goes. According to the hearing statement of former DeKalb County School Board Chair Marshall Orson, recent annexations by the cities of Atlanta and Decatur have shifted a total of approximately $33M in tax revenue away from DeKalb County, ultimately impacting schools.
Currently, there is an ongoing question of the effect on students under a petition by DeKalb County residents requesting annexation of 34 acres (131 parcels) into the City of Atlanta. On August 16, I and other legislators representing areas of the Atlanta border in DeKalb County sent a letter to Mayor Bottoms, CEO Thurmond, and APS and DCDS superintendents requesting they work together on an intergovernmental agreement to determine where students will go to school.
There will be two more hearings of the Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood, and I am hopeful that our recommendations will include greater notice to all government entities impacted by annexations, both schools and counties. I also hope that government entities that want to object to annexation actions in both the dispute resolution process before Department of Community Affairs and bond validation hearings will be granted standing and other procedural protections I suggested in HBs 23 and 24. Fingers crossed, stay tuned.
When a development authority makes a deal with a developer requiring the annexation of property, that too can impact local school systems. Again, there is no opportunity for the schools to enter into the process. When bonds are issued to underwrite the deal, only the county is entitled to receive notice of bond validation hearings, and only the county or individual citizens within the county who can show harm are entitled enter into the validation hearing proceedings to object to the deal.
I brought this issue to attention by filing HB 66 last year, and I raised it again with the House Governmental Affairs Committee this summer after the Special Committee on Annexations and Cityhood would not take it up. When the Governmental Affairs Committee met in August, it did not include this on the agenda, but I hope discussions will advance in the near term.
I joined Georgia Supreme Court Justice Michael Boggs for his subcommittee of the Behavioral Health Commission focusing on assisted outpatient treatment for adults with severe mental illness who are treatment non-adherent and frequently interact with the judicial system.
The Governor’s Commission on Behavioral Health made its recommendations last January. During the 2021 Session, two of the Commission recommendations passed: HB 307, amending the Georgia Telehealth Act to allow home care providers to use telehealth communications, and HB 591 allowing marriage and family therapists to perform the same acts as physicians and others in emergency examinations of persons for involuntary evaluation and treatment for mental health or substance abuse. Unfortunately, HB 590, to establish a grant program for assisted outpatient treatment, did not pass.
I am working with other Commission members on a comprehensive bill to include all remaining recommendations in one bill. In particular, the bill addresses parity. At the end of 2020, Congress strengthened parity laws to make physical health and mental health payments more consistent, and the parity provisions are part of the draft omnibus bill to move Georgia insurance companies to greater reimbursement payments for families needing treatment. A draft of the new comprehensive bill will likely be pre-filed in November and ready for a good discussion in January.
As MARTOC Chair, I enjoyed attending U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's summer visit, featuring U.S. Representative Lucy McBath (r). I joined DeKalb city and county officials and MARTA representatives who gathered at the Doraville MARTA station for the event.
I’m looking forward to scheduling at least one MARTOC hearing this fall. There is an ongoing conversation between MARTA and the Atlanta Transportation Link about which has authority to spend money and to make decisions about development around MARTA stations. There is an opportunity to discuss low-income housing as well. More to come.
I joined constituent Tanya Washington for the march she organized in memory of her father, who passed away from a breakthrough case of Covid. She reminds us to be vigilant, get the vaccine, and wear masks.
As much as we all want Covid to be less of a burden on our daily lives, it is not going away anytime soon, particularly as we struggle to reach herd immunity in the face of the Delta variant.
Covid has also impacted the flow of "rescue act" money to the state, and the Governor’s committees allocating that funding are behind schedule. Other states are already putting federal money into the hands of those who need it. I continue to pester our budget leaders about what is an effective use of federal Covid money.
Resources for You: