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State Sen. Elena Parent hosts town hall with local leaders, discusses legislative session

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State Sen. Elena Parent hosts town hall with local leaders, discusses legislative session

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Atlanta, GA — State Sen. Elena Parent (SD-42) hosted a town hall meeting on Monday, Jan. 31, with local leaders from DeKalb County and Atlanta to discuss local issues and the legislative session.

County and school district redistricting will come before the General Assembly this session. The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has approved its maps with five districts and two super districts. The map will now have to be approved by the state Legislature.

Hearings will begin this week and next week in the Legislature via Zoom and Facebook Live.

The DeKalb County House Legislative Delegation will hold a series of public hearings to discuss the proposed district maps for the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. The hearing schedule is as follows:

– Wednesday, Feb. 2, at noon via Facebook Live.

– Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. Advanced registration is required.

– Wednesday, Feb. 9, at noon via Facebook Live.

The virtual hearings on Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 will be held in conjunction with the delegation’s business meeting. The hearing on Feb. 8 will solely be a public hearing on the maps.

“Mainly, the process is up to our state senators and state representatives,” DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson said. “We just give suggestions on our maps. We approved our maps with five district and two super district maps.”

Parent added that Rep. Karla Drenner (D- Avondale Estates) has been working on a version of the maps that incorporated technical tweaks from the state reapportionment office.

“I think this particular version will have those technical fixes but largely retain what was voted on by the [DeKalb] Commission in terms of structure,” Parent said.

The Senate, however, could see another version of the maps that would create seven districts, instead of the current five districts and two super districts.

Parent added that if that change were to happen, it would require a referendum.

One resolution Johnson is pushing is to allow voters to vote at any precinct on Election Day.

“We can do it at early voting, why can’t we just do it during the general elections because some folks have to go all the way from work or somewhere else and go all the way to their precinct or home, and they may not make it,” Johnson said. “But when you reach the county line, you should be able to use any precinct.”

The House of Representatives has already seen some bills move out of the chamber, including bills on controversial issues related to education.

Education will be a key issue this session, Rep. Bee Nguyen (D- Atlanta) said. Some bills would prohibit transgender girls from playing sports in the public K-12 education system, ban the teaching of “critical race theory” and ban certain books from being taught in classrooms.

Nguyen would like to see the state provide more funding to mental health care this year.

“We also know in the state of Georgia we traditionally have not funded our supports for our mental health system,” she said.

There is a bipartisan effort to address mental health, which will be a priority during the legislative session. House Bill 1013 addresses various recommendations, including requiring insurance companies to cover mental health coverage in the same that physical health is covered, Nguyen said.

“I think the importance of addressing mental health in the same way as physical health is really critical,” she said. “The bill also gives first responders support help when they are called into mental health situations.”

Parent noted that the Legislature will look at cityhood and annexation issues. Senate Bill 234 would establish the city of Buckhead and was introduced to the Senate on Jan. 13. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan assigned the bill to the Senate Urban Affairs committee, which is made up of six Democratic senators.

“That is the lieutenant governor’s indication that he does not support this legislation,” Parent said. “That will not be the end of the story on this, but it is very interesting.”

She has been working to reform the process of creating new cities. She and Sen. Sally Harrell (SD-40) are working on a bill that would require certain services that are best left to the county, to stay with the county if a new city is proposed or created.

The Buckhead discussion has sparked interested from residents in five neighborhoods around Toco Hills to potentially gather signatures to annex into Brookhaven.

If the annexation were to happen, they would be covered by Brookhaven Police rather than DeKalb Police. That would be a huge hit to DeKalb County’s public safety budget, Parent said. Throughout these discussions, she is focused on ensuring safety and equity for every DeKalb resident.

“As much as I like Brookhaven, and it does a wonderful job, it would be far more damaging for less affluent areas of DeKalb County to have this entire section leave the joint tax district that provides for public safety throughout unincorporated DeKalb than it would be to allow for a vote on Vista Grove, for example, which has pledged, like Tucker, it would keep DeKalb County Police,” Parent said.

Atlanta City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, who represents District 5, gave an update on issues and initiatives she is focused on include policing and homelessness.

She has received questions about security and concerns about getting an increased police presence from Memorial Drive to Flat Shoals Road. Bakhtiari has met with the zone six precinct and police officers to come up with a plan to patrol the area.

“I’ve also been coordinating with the Atlanta Police Foundation. They have a new [plan] that they are launching around creating affordable housing for first responders throughout the district,” Bakhtiari said. “I’ve asked them to include not just police officers, but 911 operators and firefighters in that plan. We’ll be looking at where they can be placed throughout the district, especially in high crime areas.”

Under this initiative, first responders would be set up in parts of neighborhoods where they would be responsible for things like blighted properties, building relationships with the community, and tackling things like dump sites or crime in the area.

“They have a waitlist already for people who are first responders who want to live in the city of Atlanta,” Bakhtiari said. “They would have to sign a five-year lease and be responsible for their neighborhood, forming relationships in the neighborhood, making sure that people feel they had access to them and were tackling things like trash, other types of petty offenses, coordinating with PAD for diversion, etc.”

To address homelessness, Bakhtiari is working to set up a steering committee to explore setting up the city’s first walk-in shelter and low-barrier shelter. The shelters would potentially be located off Edgewood Avenue.

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