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January 23, 2013ATLANTA – The Fulton County legislative delegation has an important role during the General Assembly's 40-day legislative session. But the 2013 session may be the most important ever for North Fulton residents.
State Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek) was elected chairwoman of the Fulton County House delegation Jan. 17 by the members of the General Assembly who represent at least a portion of Fulton County. She is the first Republican to hold the job.
Part of the wheeling and dealing done last year to redraw Georgia's Senate and House districts was to ensure the GOP would at last attain a majority in the delegation. That was accomplished with a 13-12 Republican majority. While several of the new Fulton GOP delegates have only a few precincts in the county, they each get a vote.
The Republican majority is only one vote, but it is enough if the GOP delegates are united.
Riley said last week the GOP caucus for the delegation will have a legislative package for the General Assembly that could make some sweeping changes in the way Fulton County is managed.
Riley said she did not want to get into specifics about it until the GOP caucus had unanimity in what it was going to present.
"I can't be more specific because they are still in development," Riley said.
But she did say it would do three things for every citizen in Fulton County:
1. Reduce their taxes.
2. Enhance their service delivery.
3. Provide better representation.
In the matter of taxes, expect an increase in the homestead exemption and limits on millage rate increases. The courts and library system are also expected to be put under scrutiny. The Fulton Board of Elections and the black eye it took in the recent statewide and national elections will also be put under the magnifying glass.
They will do this through the promulgation of several bills they are preparing for the legislature.
Bills of local legislation are generally passed as one bill at the end of the General Assembly in one up-or-down vote. These bills are either pass-throughs from the county or cities each delegation represents, as long as they present the consent of the majority of that county's delegation.
That is why this session is such a game-changer for North Fulton.
One of the key bits of legislation they will have to produce is redistricting the county commission districts. This is federally mandated as a result of the 2010 Census. The powers of the county commission and its structure are also under review.
One likely scenario is eliminating one of the two at-large districts, leaving only the chairman's seat voted by all county residents.
Although no one is saying, the likely outcome would be at least three mostly Republican districts and three Democratic with the chairman at large. The Fulton Commission has been the scene of many internecine battles that usually – but not always – formed along party lines.
"We are looking at analyzing the idea of two at-large districts versus one at-large. But we have not reached any consensus on that," Riley said.
One should expect to see the delegation end some duplication of services now that most of the largest county in Georgia is incorporated into 14 cities (and more may seek cityhood).
A large part of the budget goes to the Grady Health Care System, and the county's 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is devoted solely to MARTA. Expect these big-ticket items to get scrutiny as well.
Asked if the legislative reorganization that the Fulton delegation is considering would relieve the need for splitting off and creating a new Milton County, Riley said not for her.
"I can't speak for other members of the delegation. But personally, I believe the recreation of Milton County is still a goal. But that will be pursued concurrent with providing reform for every citizen in Fulton County," she said.
The earliest the delegation could have something to lay on the table would be the end of January, but Riley cautioned there are a lot of demands on the legislature's resources.
A new Milton County still presents a different problem. The Georgia Constitution limits the number of Georgia counties at 159, and it would require a constitutional amendment to change that. But first, it will need a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to get the bill before voters.
Counting noses the last two years, North Fulton legislators have not had the votes to try. They have been closed-mouth leading up to this session, but the landscape is different with statewide redistricting. It does not hurt that two longtime supporters of Milton County and members of the Fulton delegation – Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones and Senate President Pro-Tem David Shafer – hold two of the top four leadership positions in the General Assembly. For now, they are holding their cards close their vests.
In addition to this substantial leadership position, the Georgia House of Representatives' Committee on Assignments named Riley to the Natural Resources and Environment, Retirement, and Ways and Means committee, as well as MARTOC (MARTA governance).
The House Committee on Assignments, chaired by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), is charged with making all House committee assignments for the members of the Georgia House of Representatives.
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