Zoom zoom zoom. I feel like that is all I do. Once we are finished on the floor, I go to committee hearings or back to my office to zoom into them. This past week it seemed like just about every committee has met once, some more. We are starting to see things move and flow through the Clerk’s Office to committees. Soon we will begin having floor debates.
New Legislation I’ve Sponsored or Co-Sponsored
This week I submitted HB 201. The purpose of this bill is to facilitate the community school model for our public schools, which includes providing wrap-around services, such as counseling, food pantries, and clothes closets. These interventions can make all the difference for our kids who come to school to learn while living in crisis at home. This bill would create a board of education certification for “whole child model” schools. This model would recognize that our children are not all coming into the classroom in the best position to focus and that our teachers cannot alone fix every problem that prevents learning. There is a companion bill in the Senate, and the Georgia Federation of Teachers is behind this legislation. In addition to fully funding our public schools, it is crucial to recognize that what happens inside the classroom’s four walls is not the only factor in seeing quality results.
Privacy and Consumer Protection
HB 115. This bill prohibits insurers from using genetic testing information to increase rates or deny coverage from that information alone. In this time of advanced technology and access to information, we must ensure that we use advancements to help, not hurt people.
HB 164. The Prescription Drug Consumer Financial Protection Act will save consumers money by offering/passing rebates on to them.
HB 49. This vital legislation would create insurance coverage parity between mental health and physical health doctor visits. Currently, the co-pays for mental health coverage price too many consumers out of getting the services they need.
HR 55. This resolution calls for a constitutional amendment (to be voted on by Georgia citizens) to create an independent redistricting commission. Currently, the redistricting process is a purely partisan process that too often leads to legislators picking their voters instead of the voters choosing their legislators. An independent redistricting commission is more likely to create fair maps that keep communities of interest together. For too long, both parties have gerrymandered districts at the expense of good government.
HB 189. This bill provides new procedures for redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts in Georgia. This measure will make the redistricting process more transparent. Among other new requirements, the bill provides for mandatory public hearings and the posting of all district map proposals referred to the committee for consideration. The map proposals would include visual depictions of the district boundaries instead of the plan and other numbers that are meaningless to most of us.
HB 284. This bill allows counties and cities to adopt the “instant runoff” method of voting to avoid costly and drawn-out runoff elections. I’ve written about instant runoffs, also known as “ranked-choice voting,” before. If you haven’t seen the video explaining how the process works, you can watch HERE.
Criminal Justice Reform
HB 232. This bill seeks to increase fairness between prosecution and defendants in grand jury proceedings. Currently, police officers are allowed to attend and provide testimony during grand jury proceedings without the defendant. This bill removes this one-sided right to influence the process.
I know that you, like me, are very concerned about the Republican Majority’s effort to make it more difficult to vote. These efforts are rooted in hate, fear, and unfounded conspiracy theories about our most recent election. Leaders should never indulge conspiracy theories, but that’s precisely what too many of my Republican colleagues are doing. Please stay alert for updates on these bills, which were recently introduced on the Senate side:
SB 67. This bill requires multiple copies of a state-issued ID to vote absentee. This would create an unnecessary hurdle for those without access to a printer or scanner.
SB 68. The measure requires voters returning absentee ballots to mail them to their local election office. It prevents local boards of elections from having drop boxes.
SB 69. This refers to the motor-voter registration system. When you go to get your license, you have to opt-OUT of being registered to vote. If passed, this would require that you opt-IN to be registered to vote. Our opt-IN motor-voter process has increased registration numbers in our state. This would take us backwards.
SB 70. This bill only makes voters who voted in the general election eligible to vote in the runoff. This is a response to the conspiracy theory that people moved into Georgia to vote in the January 5th Senate Runoff Election.
SB 71. This repeals no-excuse absentee voting. If passed, voters requesting an absentee ballot will have to fall into one of these categories: election worker, physical disability requiring constant care, election day falls on a religious holiday observed by the elector, an employer requires elector to remain on duty (limited to health, life, and safety of the public during the entire time the polls are open), or 75 years of age or older.
SB 72. A popular (but debunked) theory in the 2020 cycle was that dead people voted in the election. This bill requires the county coroner to send monthly updates to the county election board of citizens that passed away the month prior.
SB 73. This bill says that only the Secretary of State’s Office can send out absentee ballot applications. During the 2020 cycle and in prior years, third party groups and organizations would send applications. This bill would prevent third parties from sending applications.
SB 74. This relates to poll watchers. We saw an uptick in watchers both at polls and county offices. It allows poll watchers full access to all areas in the tabulating center where ballots and election results are being received/processed. It also creates an opportunity for the election superintendent to restrict the movement and activities of poll watchers in tabulating centers.
Virtual Town Hall
Thank you to everyone who came to Wednesday’s Virtual Town Hall. We had over 60 people in attendance. Higher attendance at town halls is definitely an upside to virtual events. We had a great discussion on the budget, the voting bills I mentioned earlier, how my HOPE Bills would help students and address racial disparities, transit equity, and homelessness, among others.
Governor Kemp announced this week that the state would be receiving 26,000 more doses of the vaccine. As our numbers increase, I continue to urge you to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, wear a mask or two, social distance, and wash your hands. You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers at the Department of Public Health website HERE.
The eviction crisis has been an ongoing concern with COVID in Georgia and across the nation. While in last year’s budget, Governor Kemp did not earmark CARES funding for emergency rental housing assistance, President Biden has done things since taking office to help renters:
Biden extended the moratorium on evictions until March 31 — this gives Congress more time to develop a solution for the eviction crisis when protections are lifted.
Biden also asked Congress to set aside $30 billion to help over ten million households who are behind on rent as a part of his stimulus package. It passed February 5th, extending the eviction moratorium through September.
This week Georgia passed a good vaccine milestone: 1 million vaccines have been distributed. We still have a long way to go, but I appreciate the progress. Georgia is still in phase 1A of the Distribution Plan. Demand still exceeds the current supply. If you have any questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine only (not for scheduling appointments), call 888-357-0169.
We are continuing to keep our eyes peeled for legislation, but we need your help too. I say this often in the neighborhood meetings I attend: if you see something that I am not talking about and think it is important, tell me! This is a team effort on many levels, and I do not claim to be an expert on everything. If you are an expert and want to help, please fill out this form HERE. We want this to be a discussion.