The General Assembly wrapped up its session late last month by passes several significant pieces of legislation, including bills to create a regional transit authority, a Brookhaven Public Facilities Authority and the “brunch bill.”
A bill was passed that would create a regional authority to oversee transit expansion in the metro Atlanta area, which includes 13 counties. It would be dubbed the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, or The ATL.
The region’s transit systems, including MARTA, CobbLinc, Gwinnett County Transit, and GRTA’s Xpress service, would operate under the unified brand name by 2023, according to a press release from the Atlanta Regional Commission, which supported the legislation.
State Sen. Jen Jordan said she supports the change and that it would provide better transit options for residents.
“We have to look at it from a regional perspective,” Jordan said.
It would also enable counties to seek sales tax increases of up to 1 percent for up to 30 years to fund transit expansion.
“I wholeheartedly support it,” state Rep. Beth Beskin said. “For too long, Atlanta has had an unfair burden to pay for transit expansion.”
State Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) was also happy to see the bill pass as was state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody).
“By bringing all transit systems under one brand … we can make it where people want to ride more,” she said.
Such a “skeleton” of a transit system is needed if the state wants to attract major corporations such as Amazon, she added.
Building more rail is cost prohibitive, she said, so to create an efficient, seamless and regional transit system means relying heavily on buses.
“There would have to be a culture shift on riding buses,” she said. “People don’t like to ride buses … and this is something we have to get on board with.”
Added Millar, “We’re making real progress on regional transit.”
A bill to allow restaurants to begin serving alcohol on Sundays at 11 a.m. instead of waiting until 12:30 p.m. easily passed this year. Local municipalities are now able to put a referendum on the ballot to see if their voters want to do so.
Hanson (R-Brookhaven) carried the bill in the House and said sales could generate $100 million a year in revenue with $11 million in taxes going to the state. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature and Hanson said supporters are hoping he signs the bill soon so referendums can be added to the May 22 primary ballots. If the bill is not signed by that time, there is the chance it could be added to July runoff ballots, she said.
Millar also supported the bill. “You can get mimosas if you belong to a private club like the Dunwoody Club or Brookhaven’s Capital City Club, or at the Mercedes Benz stadium. We may as well let everyone else do it,” he said.
Hate crimes bill
Hanson’s hate crimes law bill failed to get out of committee this year despite new language introduced by co-sponsor state Sen. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) that excluded specific protections for transgender people. Similar hate crime bills have failed for the past decade.
“It was very disappointing,” she said. “But we had some really great conversations about the rising numbers of hate crimes. The current environment won’t let this bill go away.”
Brookhaven Public Facilities Authority
State Sens. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) and Millar co-sponsored a bill to create a Brookhaven Public Facilities Authority with Hanson supporting it in the House.
The new authority, to be made up of City Council members, is an entity that will allow the authority to use hotel-motel taxes and issue revenue bonds to fund the Peachtree Creek Greenway, a linear park that is slated to connect the city to Chamblee, Doraville, Buckhead’s PATH 400 trails and eventually to the Atlanta BeltLine.
Police helping with immigration enforcement
Millar supported Senate Bill 452, which would have required local police officers to assist in immigration enforcement. The bill passed out of the Senate but did not get to the House floor for a vote.
“This was not about having someone pull over someone with brown hair and eyes and check their papers,” he said. “There had to be probable cause and a crime committed.”
Hanson said she fought against the bill in the House.
“There were a lot of people working against the bill, myself being one,” she said. “It was a terrible bill … that almost encouraged racial profiling.”
Delaying DeKalb commissioners pay raise
Millar tried to delay implementation of a nearly 60 percent pay raise the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners quietly voted to approve for themselves with an amendment to Senate Bill 430, a bill dealing with salary increases for local governments.
The amendment failed, and Millar called it a “major disappointment.”
“The amendment did not make it out of the House. This was a major disappointment,” he said.
The pay raise becomes effective Jan. 1, 2019 and increases commissioners’ salaries from $40,530 a year to $64,637 a year.
–Dyana Bagby and Evelyn Andrews