Members of the DeKalb County board of commissioners listen as citizens speak during a Dekalb County board of commissioners meeting in Decatur on March 13, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

DeKalb legislative priorities for 2019 begin to take shape

DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners should push state legislators to support a pilot program that would provide health coverage for the uninsured, a board committee is recommending.

Commissioners have yet to finalize priorities for the upcoming legislative session, but the committee also wants the board to ask DeKalb’s delegation to back a bill that would give local authorities the power to decrease penalties for marijuana possession.

These proposals still need the full board’s approval, which is expected on Tuesday.

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The county operations committee discussed a slate of legislative priorities this week then agreed to recommend that the board stand behind a renewed attempt by Grady Health System to get the state to create a pilot health insurance program. That program could provide coverage for up to 50,000 uninsured DeKalb and Fulton resident.

Grady first floated the plan in 2015. It requires the federal government to approve changes to Georgia’s Medicaid program through a “waiver” process. The Healthy Georgia Solution program would use federal dollars to establish sites where uninsured patients could receive health services. But it doesn’t provide as much coverage as the residents would have if the state agreed to accept federal dollars to add people to the Medicaid program.

Three years ago, the state’s Department of Community Health ultimately decided not to move forward on a similar proposal. It said the cost to the state, which would be on the hook to match federal funding, was the main barrier.

But the state also received push-back from the federal government under President Barack Obama, whose administration took issue with states asking for Medicaid flexibility while refusing to accept funding provided under the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid expansion.

The political landscape is different now.

“We have been building support over the summer with legislators and have met with the (Governor-elect Brian) Kemp transition team,” Jocelyn Whitfield, Grady’s director of government relations, told the committee Tuesday.

Another legislative priority that received the committee’s blessing is a resolution giving counties the same power that cities have to alter marijuana possession laws. Some counties, like Fulton, have already moved forward with changes, but DeKalb’s attorneys say a state law is needed.

Penalties for marijuana possession already have been lessened in unincorporated Fulton County — roughly 7.5 square miles of industrial property — and in cities like Clarkston and Atlanta. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is no longer subject to arrest, and fines have been drastically reduced. DeKalb tried to get the marijuana bill passed last year to make it clear it can do the same thing, but the proposal gained little traction in the General Assembly.

Though the committee isn’t recommending that the commission push for a bill that would allow Confederate monuments to be removed from government property, the full commission is likely to sign off for the second year in a row.

DeKalb commissioners want to relocate a monument from Decatur Square, but state laws say it must remain on display wherever it ends up. The county was unable to find any museums or organizations willing to do that.

Commissioners on Tuesday will also discuss whether they want the General Assembly to repeal a law that singles out DeKalb and prohibits it from using a certain type of economic incentive for developers. Commissioners will also decide how much of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s policy agenda they are willing to get behind.

The ACCG has a lengthy legislative agenda of its own that includes requests for more funding for mental health, an overhaul of the state’s election system and additional state funding to expand transit.

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