Swearing In & Budget Week
Swearing in was different this year. We had many precautions and protocols to follow, including only having one guest. My husband, Andrew, was mine, and he held my Bible as I took my oath of office. I am so grateful for my family who make service possible.
I also found out that my seat is not on the House Floor, but in the House Gallery. They have spread out members of the House into three different areas: the House Floor, the House Gallery, and a large committee room, to promote social distancing. While we soldier on, leadership on both sides is adamant about mask-wearing and everyone being tested twice a week. I’m thankful for this
The Governor came to give his Annual State of the State Address, emphasizing Georgia’s resilience in his speech. I appreciated the Governor including in his speech the need to increase our education budget, his plan to provide $1,000 bonuses to our educators, an endorsement of changing Georgia’s citizen arrest law, and his recognition of the need for more financial aid for college students. There was a big notable omission from his speech, however. He still refuses to expand Medicaid in our state. We have too many uninsured Georgians and I find it immoral that we continue to refuse federal funds that would help our neighbors.
All the members received their committee and office assignments. Speaker Ralston makes the ultimate decision, and he placed me on the Retirement, Judiciary, and the Appropriations Committees. I am very excited to begin watching bills shuttle through the committee process and to be in a new office suite with many colleagues that I call friends. I hope to count on visits from constituents in the Legislative Office Building Suite 409 as soon as things return to normal.
Per the Georgia Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly’s only mandate is to pass a balanced budget. This year is no exception as we work through the Amended 2020-21 Budget and the 2021-22 Budget (what we call the “big budget”). Last June, Kemp cut about $2.6 billion from the 2020-21 budget. The Amended 2020-21 Budget restores some of these cuts, but there is much more we need to do to make sure our government has the resources to adequately serve all Georgians.
Amendments for Fiscal Year 2021
- $590,000 restored for education
- $748,448 increase for vehicle replacement within the Department of Agriculture
- $1,000,000 increase in advertising for Georgia tourism
- $38.6 million for new school buses
- $636 million increased for Quality Basic Education, including $567 million going back for K-12 education
- $18 million increase to replace and modernize databases including GRITS (for vaccine distribution)
- $15.4 million addition to AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to provide HIV/AIDS medications to low-income, uninsured/underinsured Georgians
- $35 million in Behavioral Health – developmentally disabled
- Georgia has received $1 billion in federal aid for combatting COVID
- $76.3 million restored in post-secondary
- $8 million for teaching activities in University System of Georgia
- $427,000 to ease the shortage of medical examiners
- $3,176,833 for a 75 person trooper school – reduction of $4 million
- $108,185 restored to Court of Appeals
- 10% raise for lower level guard positions (Department of corrections)
- $427,421 increase to retain forensic pathologists
- $200 million increase for roadways
While all of the above changes are a part of a $26.3 billion budget and not exhaustive list, they are some of the high points. The state also has a Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR) or what many call a rainy day fund. It currently holds $2.7 billion of taxpayer dollars. Many of my colleagues, myself included, believe some of these funds should be appropriated to the Department of Public Health for more testing and vaccine distribution.
I also believe that our state cannot rely solely on cuts to balance our budget. And there are ways to raise revenue without raising taxes. One such option is to raise the tobacco tax. Our state tobacco tax is well below the national average. Simply raising it one dollar would add $416 million to our state coffers on average for five years. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GPBI) has done research on this topic and you can read more HERE.
We voted on the Amended 2020-21 Budget (HB 80) Thursday, January 28, and it passed 149-20. The Amended Budget did not add new cuts and did restore some key funding for education and healthcare, so I voted yes. The Amended Budget will get us through June 2021, and now all eyes are on the budget for our next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2021.
Read more about the Budget:
Bills to Watch
Beyond the budgets, there are several bills I am watching. Many of them include changes to our current voting procedures, such as absentee ballots and the Secretary of State’s appointment. We should not do anything to make it harder for people to vote. My team and I will be watching these bills as they come out of the Hopper and enter committees.
I have dropped three bills so far (stay tuned for more): HB 87, 88, and 89. These bills focus on higher education and the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs. A personal point of pride is that each bill has bipartisan co-signers.
HB 87 makes it easier for students to start their studies to earn associates degrees at local technical colleges.
HB 88 ensures that HOPE Grants for technical college covers full tuition. Students in technical college are the most price sensitive in higher education and any amount less than full tuition jeopardizes the ability of students to complete their studies.
HB 89 adds the ability for students to earn the Zell Miller Scholarship (the only full tuition HOPE Scholarship for 4 year colleges and universities) after high school graduation. Currently without a 1200 SAT upon high school graduation, students cannot receive a full tuition scholarship, and even if students earn a 4.0 every semester of their college careers, they can never receive the full tuition scholarship.
You can find the text of these bills on the House website under Sponsored Legislation, HERE.
I have also co-sponsored several bills (with more to come):
HB 59. The purpose of this bipartisan bill is to allow instant runoff voting for military members who vote in Georgia. This is also known as ranked-choice voting (RCV). To learn more, watch this VIDEO. During the last election cycle, we had three runoffs. Adding this option for our military members would allow them to immediately vote in those elections without sending off multiple applications and ballots back home. Look for more RCV bills as session moves along. This is good government that makes voting easier for citizens and saves money spent on multiple runoffs.
HB 77. This bill would allow citizens to vote anywhere within their county on Election Day. We are already allow citizens to choose a polling location within their counties during early voting. We should do it on Election Day too.
HR 14. I am honored to sign onto this bipartisan bill to replace the statue of Alexander Stephens with Congressman John Lewis as one of Georgia’s two statues at the United States Capitol. I cannot wait to watch this become law and see a beautiful statue of our beloved John Lewis representing us in Washington, D.C.
In my last email, I introduced you to two staff members, Olivia and Sasha. Today I’d like to introduce you to our interns.
Robert is a second-year law student at Emory University School of Law. Originally from Princeton, NJ, Robert spent the majority of his life in the Garden State before moving down to Atlanta for law school. He enjoys learning about the Georgia political process and is excited to help the constituents of HD57.
Brejae is a Fashion Merchandising major at the University of Georgia. She was born and raised in the peach state and peaches are her favorite fruit! She wants to learn, to grow, and to help make Georgia an amazing state. She has great taste in fashion and colleges–Go Dawgs!
Sophie is a sophomore at Middlebury College in Vermont. She is an International Studies major and a Spanish minor. Sophie previously interned with Georgia WIN List. I am so excited to have Sophie joining my team this winter.
In the District
Vaccine distribution is ramping up. In Fulton County, there are several locations to get your vaccine. You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers at the Department of Public Health website HERE.
Demand exceeds the current supply. Everyone is working diligently to schedule appointments and distribute what is in supply. If you have any questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine only (not for scheduling appointments), call 888-357-0169.
There are several events, social distanced and virtual, happening in the districts. One is a Virtual Town Hall I am co-hosting on February 3rd with Senator Sonya Halpern. We hope you can join us!
When I was elected, I wanted to make sure we continued to stay in active communication in the district. While COVID prevents us from gathering as we usually would, I have attended every neighborhood association and NPU meeting this month—that’s 17 meetings for those keeping score! The district, as gerrymandered as it is, has 19+ different neighborhoods. As the session begins to ramp up, I will not be able to attend all meetings as I have this month. Olivia and Sasha will be in attendance, as well as our interns. And you can always reach me by phone or email. We are here for you!