The state budget, legalization of gambling and the security of the Georgia State Capitol were among the issues discussed by lawmakers in the DeKalb County House Delegation at a Jan. 9 virtual town hall.

The lawmakers spoke in advance of the General Assembly’s 2021 session, which began Jan. 11. The delegation is scheduled to hold another town hall on Jan. 12.

Thirteen of the delegation’s 15 members attended the town hall, with those not involved including local state Reps. Mike Wilensky (D-Dunwoody) and Scott Holcomb (D-DeKalb). Another local legislator, Rep. Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven), monitored the public chat room and posed questions to the rest of the delegation.

The state’s $26 billion budget was a major agenda item in anticipation of “Budget Week” which is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“I think we need to fight against any legislation that will take away from public education,” said Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia). “We definitely have to be creative and vigilant and make sure that support is there for our community.”

“The real math being done, and there are some really smart people doing it, is on how we use the most recent stimulus package,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), referring to federal pandemic funds.

Carter said the budget’s “numbers can be confusing to some” and she suggested constituents get details as proposals are filed on the General Assembly website.

Asked in public comment about the possibility of legalized gambling, Wilson said he knew of a local proponent that will try to get legislation pushed through the house. He did not name the person he was referring to.

“It remains to be seen if that goes through, but I can tell you that it will come up this year,” said Wilson.

Some of the lawmakers, including Oliver and Reps. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) and Renitta Shannon (D-Decatur), discussed allegations that the Republican Party has engaged in voter suppression, saying the issue needs to be monitored closely.

On the security at the state capitol following the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) said that “it is a growing concern even to the majority party.” He said he has been receiving “hundreds of emails” from people who disagree with the presidential election results. He said he has forwarded those emails to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the delegation chair, voiced concerns about weapons being allowed into the capitol. The public isn’t allowed to bring weapons into the capitol building but members of the House are, Drenner said.

“I don’t want someone to shoot a protester,” she said.

There were 130 virtual participants at one point in the meeting, leading one lawmaker to suggest that form of engagement might continue long-term.

“This may very well be the standard even long after the pandemic has passed,” said Mitchell of the high attendance.

“This [past] year has been a roller coaster of emotion for all of us,” said Rep. Zulma Lopez, (D-Stone Mountain).

–Donnell Suggs