The Georgia General Assembly completed their previously suspended 2020 legislative session on June 26th. Their primary objective was to pass a State budget. The pandemic has caused revenue shortfalls and the governor directed all departments to reduce their budgets. Fortunately grants to local public health departments will be spared cuts, but there are significant cuts in state spending for mental health and human services. There are also significant cuts to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Georgia has historically underfunded human services, these cuts are another step backwards, particularly in our current health and economic crisis.
New ethics legislation for DeKalb is the most important news from the legislative session. You will recall that the method of appointing members to the DeKalb ethics board was found to be unconstitutional. In 2019 the delegation approved legislation to fix the appointment process, but went further and would have reduced the effectiveness of the Board of Ethics. DeKalb voters wisely rejected this change when it came to referendum. This year a new ethics bill has passed and will come to DeKalb voters in a November referendum.
Under the proposed changes, members of the Board of Ethics will be selected by the DeKalb House and Senate delegations (3 each) and the 7th member will be chosen by the Tax Commissioner. An ethics administrator position is added who will document all ethics complaints and bring cases to the Ethics Board to determine if the ethics officer should conduct an investigation. The new legislation specifically outlaws any gifts to employees of the County Purchasing and Contracting Department (accepting gifts from venders or someone trying to influence a decision was an ethics violation previously).
The new ethics bill appears to be workable and immune from further legal challenges. It will restore a functioning DeKalb Board of Ethics. However having 3 appointments from the House Delegation and 3 appointments from the Senate is concerning. DeKalb voters and citizens need to remain vigilant that the appointment process is transparent and does not include political “buddies”. The DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Counsel which opposed the previous ethics bill, endorses the new bill that will be on the November ballot.
In other news from the session, a bill to establish a city of Vista Grove failed to pass. A Hate Crimes Bill was passed and has been signed by the Governor. A bill to allow the delivery of beer and wine is sitting on the governor’s desk.
Click here to view DeKalb County end of 2020 Legislation Session Report