State Senator Elena Parent (State District 42) and newly elected State Representative Saira Draper (House District 90) welcomed people to what was being billed as a town hall to kick off the upcoming legislative session. The event took place at Neighborhood Church in Candler Park Wednesday night and the topics of interest and discussion ranged from abortion rights to the city’s lack of more than one level one trauma center following the closure of Atlanta Medical Center late last year.

More than 20 people showed up to Neighborhood Church in Candler Park for Wednesday night’s legislative session kickoff town hall meeting. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

On the loss of Atlanta Medical Center and the pressure being put on Grady Hospital, the only level one trauma center in a city of nearly 500,000 people inside the Atlanta city limits, Parent said, “It’s terrifying, people are going to die because there’s only one.” She mentioned that other hospitals in south Georgia are also in danger of being closed. “It can reach a crisis tipping point and the whole system can feel it. Everyone can feel it,” Parent said.

Asked what could be done about the hospital closures throughout Georgia this legislative session, Parent added that medicaid expansion, a oft-discussed topic during the town hall, and raising the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate. Both admitted that they don’t believe anything will be done regarding Medicaid.

Draper, a freshman state representative, said she will spend a lot of her time this session “learning, observing, building relationships with people both in my party and across the aisle as well. I think there’s a lot to learn from both,” she said. Candler Park falls within Draper’s district and many of the people at the town hall were supporters. She hugged and chatted with people afterward. 

Among the other topics of discussion were the state budget. “We have more money in the reserve than the state has ever had,” Parent said. “We have a budgetary surplus of more than $6 billion.” During Stacey Abrams’ most recent gubernatorial campaign the budgetary surplus was a constant talking and rallying point. 

Education, runoff elections, SB 202, affordable housing and Georgia’s gun laws, or lack thereof were also on the agenda. Parent and Draper took questions from an audience via live stream and in person. 

On crime, Parent called plans to pass a prosecutorial oversight board, something has failed to pass twice already, “preemptive bills” that are created to take power away from district attorneys offices. 

This year’s state representative class is made up of just 79 Democrats and 24 of them, including Draper, are freshman. Asked what she wants to try to get accomplished with the numbers clearly not on her or her fellow Democratic state representatives’ sides, she said, “I am going to contribute as much as I can. Elections and voting rights are of interest to me and I feel like I have a unique perspective and experience on these things and would be able to contribute if given the opportunity.”

Draper hopes to be assigned to committees that deal with those particular issues. “If I were assigned to a committee that deals with those issues I would like that,” she added.

This year there will be a new Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House when the 157th General Assembly convenes at the state capitol Monday, January 9.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...