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DeKalb legislative delegation talks voting, education, and Medicaid expansion

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DeKalb legislative delegation talks voting, education, and Medicaid expansion

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — At the second in a series of town halls on Dec. 21, the DeKalb legislative delegation offered a recap of the 2023 special session and a preview of what they expect from the upcoming 2024 regular session, which will start in January.

Georgia voting maps from 2021 were ruled in violation of the Voting Rights Act.  In October, Federal Judge Steve Jones said that new maps must be drawn and those maps must add several new majority Black districts. The Georgia legislature, which normally meets from January to March or April, returned to the Capitol in November for a special session to hammer out new maps.

Rep. Saira Draper of House District 90 said that Republicans drew those maps without consulting or even informing Democrats.

“They didn’t tell us what they were doing. More importantly, they didn’t tell the public what they were doing,” Draper said.

Democrats have said they don’t think that the new maps remedy the problems mentioned in the court order. The plaintiffs in the case, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, returned to court to challenge the new maps.

The plaintiffs argued that while new majority Black districts were created, some minority opportunity districts were eliminated and that the remedy did not help those who had been injured.

Janet Grant of Fair Districts asked what the delegation thought would be the likely outcome. 

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of HD 82 said that while it is not always possible to guess what a judge will say based on his demeanor, she saw Jones’ level of engagement as a positive sign.

“He asked a lot of questions,” Oliver said.

If Jones rejects the proposed maps in favor of having them redrawn by a special master, the process must be done by Jan. 28 for them to be used in the 2024 elections. Jones has said that he will rule quickly. 

Draper said that the state is likely to appeal, and all of that is likely to place a burden on counties and voters.

Looking forward to the 2024 legislative session, legislators said that the budget would certainly be a focus and that school vouchers and voting bills were likely to reappear.

Draper said that she expects legislation to prohibit referenda by cities and counties. 

“There is already no way to change laws through citizen-led petitions on the state level,” Draper said.

Along with predictions about what Republicans were likely to focus on, legislators offered their priorities.

Rep. Viola Davis of HD 87 and Rep. Becky Evans of HD 89 said that education is underfunded.

“Education should be a priority…We need to update the Quality Basic Education formula,”  Davis said.

Evans said that school public safety, transportation, and professional development for teachers all need more support.

Oliver said that the hospital industry is talking publicly and privately about marrying certificate of need reform with Medicaid expansion. Oliver said that she has been looking at how North Carolina and Arkansas have done something similar and has been discussing it with some Republican leadership in hopes of finding a compromise that will allow an expansion of Medicaid.

“I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in past years,” Oliver said.  

Other than that, the DeKalb delegation was realistic about their ability to change outcomes in a Republican-controlled legislature.

“I just think it’s going to be ugly,” state Rep. Karla Drenner said, but added that the delegation would be in there fighting.

Oliver suggested that it would be helpful for the public to advocate for transparency. Committee chairs are supposed to post specific agendas for meetings and many don’t, so even committee members may not know what is going to be discussed and interested members of the public don’t know when to show up. 

Oliver said that if the public advocates for the House Speaker to enforce those transparency rules, that will make it easier for the public to know what is going on.

Draper said that she felt that there would be several bad election bills in 2024, because she sees Republicans filling them in response to vocal election deniers who are at the Capitol frequently.

“That’s very concerning because you can never satiate a conspiracy theorist,” Draper said.

The DeKalb legislative delegation plans to hold another town hall at 6:30 pm on Jan. 4, at 7 p.m. at Chamblee City Hall, located at 3518 Broad Street.

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