Business is picking up under the Gold Dome! This week we had several floor debates, and our team participated in many community meeting discussions. We also found out our schedule through the end of the month. We do not yet know when the session will be over (Sine Die! Legislative Day 40) or when bills must pass one chamber to stay alive for the session (Crossover Day! Legislative Day 28). The House Leadership is still treading carefully when setting schedules, always aware that COVID numbers could lead us to pause the session. To see the current Adjournment Resolution, go to this LINK.
This week I was able to meet a few rising stars at Morehouse School of Medicine.
HB 112 passed the House this week. I voted NO. This bill is an extension of a 2020 law passed with a 1-year sunset (time limit). It says that all businesses have immunity from any COVID liability absent very extreme situations. Republicans say this will help protect small businesses from being sued and having to close. Along with many others, I believe this creates an immunity shield for larger corporations to protect themselves from being sued for sub-par COVID protocols and cleaning. HB 112 does say if companies show “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm,” they can be liable to a suit. But it is too much protection for one side of society. We know how to deal with this pandemic now. We know how to stay safe. Businesses who make money from customers and workers should have every incentive (including fear of responsibility for others’ illnesses if they cause them) to act the right way.
SB 10. The bill imposes increased penalties for racing, elevating laying drag and street racing a “high and aggravated misdemeanor.” A first offense would impose a mandatory $1,000 fine and six points on the offender’s drivers license (15 points within two years leads to a suspended driver’s license). The highest penalty is a $2,500 fine and impounding the car at the driver’s expense until the legal case is resolved. It would also make it a misdemeanor to promote, advertise, or attend a drag race or street race. Additionally, high-performance vehicles, with or modified to have 650 horsepower or more, would require special license plates.
We certainly have a street racing problem in our neighborhoods, but I am not sure creating yet another crime on our books is the best way to deal with the situation. I’ve been working with other legislators and the Prosecuting Attorneys Council to make better use of existing laws to address street racing. Stay tuned.
Visiting Healthcare Facilities
HB 290 was heard in committee this week. This bill would essentially prevent hospitals and nursing homes from obtaining or renewing a license to operate if they create a policy that prevents visitors during a “declared public health emergency.” The bill would allow at least two family members or friends to visit patients for no less than 2 hours each day, and visitors would have to follow the facility’s health protocols. If passed, it would also preclude lawsuits against health care facilities if someone gets sick because of visitors.
Families of patients say they want to visit their loved ones, especially when a family member’s health deteriorates for non-COVID reasons. On the flip side, many people agree that adding any extra people to a healthcare facility increases the risk of infection not only for the patient who has visitors, but also staff and other patients. This bill needs careful study.
Anti-Transgendered Student Bills
HB 276 would require students in private schools to play on sports teams based on the gender on their birth certificates. HB 372 relates to the same subject matter but goes even further and allows school districts to appoint a 3-person panel to determine a student’s gender if questioned.
Both of these bills are hateful and completely unnecessary. HB 276 was heard in committee this week, and the bill sponsor admitted he had no example of any harm to any Georgia student-athlete that his bill would solve.
HB 80. After passing the House several legislative days ago, the Amended 2020-21 budget passed through the Senate with changes, and then the House and Senate reached a compromise in conference committee. The agreed-upon budget includes a $1,000 pay increase for government employees; this is a one-time supplemental increase for roughly 57,000 employees who make less than $80,000 per year and includes teachers, public health care workers, troopers, food inspectors, child-support caseworkers, and more. The House and Senate agreed to this version, and the budget is on its way to the Governor.
Senate Bills 67-74 are still over in the Senate. They have been assigned to the Senate Ethics Committee for review.
HB 270 has now passed out of the House Elections Committee. This bill shortens the period for requesting and returning absentee ballots. I fear this is just the start of bad election bills moving through the House.
My office has received quite a bit of correspondence regarding the Department of Labor and unemployment claims. Due to several factors: COVID, being understaffed, switching to a new computer system, DOL’s response times are very slow. Some Georgians have been waiting six months or more for help with zero communication from the department. This is unacceptable.
My office is doing all we can to help, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough we can do to provide much relief. All my office can do is submit a legislative inquiry. This requires information from claimants regarding their specific situations. It can take up to 3 weeks to hear back from the department, and because of the sensitive nature, the department will only contact the claimant.
My office has done some research into local organizations that have stepped up to help Georgians during this time. Information regarding the contacts and what assistance they are providing can be found HERE.
In the District
I joined WIN List on Friday, February 12th, for their new segment, Women In the News. We discussed COVID in the Capitol, voting bills, and HOPE for our young Georgians. If you’d like to hear that discussion, you can watch the recording HERE.
MARTA Tack Replacement: Gold and Red Lines
Part of the MARTA 2040 is replacing a diamond switch between the Lindbergh, Buckhead, and Lenox stations. Replacement of this section will occur starting at 9pm on Tuesday, February 16, and end at 4am on Monday, February 22. Free buses will be available to shuttle people from Lenox to Buckhead to Lindbergh and back. There will not be a shuttle direct from Lenox to Lindbergh. On the MARTAConnect App, there is a $10 Uber voucher available to customers twice a day to travel between these stations. MARTA asks that if you use this route, please add 30 minutes to your travels. Please follow MARTA on Twitter, @MARTAService, to get real-time updates and announcements.
Neighborhood communities may experience disruptions such as noise from train alert horns, rail cutting, and heavy equipment, as well as bright lights and vehicles moving in and out of the worksite.
First, the Acting Secretary of Education has extended the pause of federal student loan payments and will keep the interest rate at 0% at President Biden’s request. Second, as many of you know, variants are on the rise. 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. 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.