State lawmakers return to the Capitol this month for what appears will be a wide-ranging legislative session. They’re preparing to debate anything from how to pay to pave the roads to whether the state should apologize for slavery.

Here are some possible highlights:

Transportation looks like the big issue this year. “We’ve got to take some steps on transportation,” Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) said. “That’s our Achille’s Heel. We’ve run out of time for just talking about it.”

A state study committee reported that “Georgia is faced with a growing crisis with regard to funding the construction, repair and maintenance of its transportation infrastructure.” The report says the state must come up with $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year simply to maintain its roads and bridges.

“Somewhere, you’ve got to find that money, and that’s a whole lot of money,” Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) said.

And that still may not be enough. Addressing critical needs would require another $2.1 billion to $2.9 billion, consultants told the committee. At the same time, some state officials are beginning to talk about including mass transit in the transportation
mix.

Nobody, including the committee, seems willing to say yet just where all that cash should come from. The committee recommended that lawmakers look into a number of options, including raising the motor fuel tax; converting the sales tax on motor fuels to an excise tax; adding another penny to the state sales tax; setting road-use fees for electric cars and hybrids; and increasing the role of transit
systems.

And there are plenty of other proposals that may have their moment under the Gold Dome. Here are a few:

• Lawmakers also will juggle proposals to create up to six new cities in the metro Atlanta area, continuing the birthing of new towns that began with Sandy Springs in 2005. Proposed new cities include several in DeKalb County and a city of South Fulton, which would turn the last remaining area of unincorporated Fulton County into a separate municipality. In DeKalb, a state subcommittee was forced to draw the boundary between the proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker after leaders of those cityhood efforts couldn’t come to an agreement. But some local lawmakers say they’d rather put their efforts this session into remaking DeKalb’s county government.

Medical marijuana. After public hearings scattered across the state, a legislative study committee is recommending the legalization of the use of marijuana or its extracts to treat certain medical conditions. The committee said smoking pot should remain against the law, but a narrow exception should allow patients with particular medical problems to be treated with an oil-based, non-smokeable form of marijuana. The problem, some lawmakers say, is getting the state program to match up to federal law.

The “Gurley Bill.” One pre-filed bill would punish people who enter transactions with student athletes that result in sanctions against the athletes. The bill already is nicknamed “The Gurley Bill” after UGA running back Todd Gurley, who missed four football games after officials flagged him for violating the college game’s rules by accepting money for autographed memorabilia.

Body cameras for police. A proposal filed by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) would require police officers in Georgia to be equipped with body cameras.

Apologizing for slavery. A resolution offered by Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), proposes the General Assembly “expresses profound regret for this state’s participation in the process of slavery,” atones for the involuntary servitude of Africans and calls for reconciliation among all Georgians.

• A constitutional amendment to allow the creation of more city school districts. Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) is asking the Legislature to call for a constitutional amendment to allow cities to start their own school systems. Taylor said he’s dropped a requirement included in an earlier version (that never came to a vote) that the districts be allowed only in cities started since 2005.

DeKalb tax assessments freeze. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) says a property tax assessments freeze imposed nearly a decade ago is about to expire. “If we don’t renew it, we would have 10 years of assessments [imposed],” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, we need to make it permanent. It’s going to be very hard for DeKalb County to move any other legislation if this bill doesn’t pass
first.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.