This past week the number of bills moving through the committee process increased, including more bad voting bills. Several bills passed out of the House, including measures affecting adoption, Medicaid, and family leave for state employees. Three of my higher education bills received committee hearings. Next week we are in session every day so look for even more increased activity.
Bill that Passed the House
HB 146. This bill gives state employees three weeks of paid parental leave, which will affect about 423,000 parents and is for births, adoptions, and foster placements. It is available for mothers and fathers. This is a good first step to making serious progressive change for our state employees and working families across the State.
HB 163. This bill automatically enrolls kids in Medicaid who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAPs), thus reducing the number of uninsured kids by making it easier to register and stay covered by Medicaid.
HB 154. This bi-partisan bill makes several changes to the adoption code:
- Lowers the age an individual may petition the court to adopt a child from 25 to 21 years old.
- Clarifies that a court may recognize termination of parental rights from other states.
- Provides procedures to protect the child’s anonymity in an appeal.
- Allows out-of-state petitioners in uncontested adoption cases to appear in court virtually.
- Makes it a felony for an individual to perpetrate a fraud upon a prospective adoptive parent, causing that person to expend financial resources or take steps to adopt a child based on false representations of the existence of pregnancy or that an expectant mother intends to place her child for adoption.
Update on Legislation I’ve Introduced
My HOPE bills, HB 87-89, were heard in the Higher Education Committee Friday morning. These bills would expand access to higher education in our State. As a first-generation college student, I know how important financial aid is to make sure college doors are open to everyone.
HB 87 and 88 both expand access to aid for technical college students. HB 88 fully funds the HOPE Grant so that it covers full tuition at our technical colleges. HB 87 allows students to use the HOPE Grant to cover the cost of associate degree courses taken at technical colleges. These bills would collectively cost about $45 million. This amount (and more) is currently available from recurring funds presently going into our unrestricted Lottery reserve fund each year.
What is the Unrestricted Lottery Reserve Fund, you ask? As you probably know, HOPE is funded through Lottery sales. By law, we are required to hold a certain amount of those sales proceeds in a restricted reserve fund to provide a fail-safe in the event of decreased Lottery sales. For the last 10 years, the State has piled up reserve funds on top of what is required by law—this is referred to as the Unrestricted Lottery Reserve Fund. Currently, the State is holding 128% of what is required by law. We are adding, on average, over $72 million to the unrestricted reserve fund each year. We can afford to take $45 million from that amount and invest in our people through my proposed HOPE Grant changes.
If you want to watch me explain these measures and hear student testimony supporting these bills, visit this LINK. My remarks start at the 31:10 mark.
This week I introduced HB 499, which eliminates the state preemption that prevents cities and counties from adopting higher minimum wage laws within their jurisdictions and prevents their control over their own contracting standards. It was assigned to the Industry & Labor Committee. This bill is an excellent local control measure that would also help working families.
Voting Bills Update
“Democracy dies in the darkness.” Washington Post, 2017.
“Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” Justice Louis Brandeis, 1913.
We are all familiar with these phrases. So why do Republicans want to pass massive voting changes in the dark without public input? Both the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Special Committee on Election Integrity had meetings this past week announced at the last minute and not live-streamed. This is unacceptable. The Republican leaders pushing these bills clearly do not want the public to know what’s going on, and they don’t want to provide time for real input and positive improvements to any legislation.
On Thursday, the new 48-page omnibus voting bill, HB 531, was given to committee members only two hours before the committee meeting. Here’s what is currently in the measure:
Changes to early voting:
- Restrict voting from 9am-5pm.
- Prohibits counties from having Sunday early voting.
- Eliminates 1 of the 2 early voting options.
- Bans mobile voting in non-emergencies.
- Counties must provide 24/7 in-person security.
- Limits box locations to inside early voting locations and only during early voting hours.
- Bans use after early voting has ended.
Vote By Mail:
- Cuts application request window by 113 days.
- Requires mail ballots to be mailed from 48-29 days out by county officials.
- Requires a copy of ID for voting by mail if the voter does not have a drivers license.
- Absentee ballot return deadlines are being changed to 11 days before Election Day.
- Allows counties to decide what times ballots must be returned.
- Requires outside envelope to have the date of birth, last 4 of SSN, and drivers license number.
- Creates a misdemeanor for non-authorized personnel handling a complete ballot application.
- Bans anyone from sending an absentee ballot application without request.
- Requires request application to be the same form as the one created by the SOS.
- Bans out-of-precinct provisional ballots from being counted.
- Allows counties to provide fewer machines than suggested machine to voter ratios.
- Allows precinct splitting due to long lines.
- Prohibits people from giving/receiving water within 150 feet of the voting line.
Supposed integrity measures:
- Bans local election board members from accepting grant money.
- Cuts certification deadlines from 10 to 5 days after the election.
- Removes power from the SOS to extend certification.
*Special thanks to the Georgia Muslim Voter Project for creating a great summary on HB 531*
HB 270 passed with revisions out of committee, making the deadline to request an absentee ballot 10 days before Election Day.
SB 68-70 and 72-74 have not changed and have not moved from the Ethics Committee or Subcommittee in the Senate. If you’d like to read them, I have linked them: SB 68, SB 69, SB 70, SB 72, SB 73, and SB 74.
SB 67 has changed and passed the subcommittee. This bill requires voters to submit a copy of their ID, a driver’s license number, or other state ID when requesting an absentee ballot.
SB 71 passed the subcommittee, which ends no-excuse absentee voting.
SB 89 passed the subcommittee as well. It creates a Chief Elections Assistance Officer within the SOS Office to handle low-performing county election offices.
SB 93 limits the use of mobile voting buses only to emergencies and passed the subcommittee.
Proponents of these bills say that the goal is not to make legal voting harder, but only illegal voting harder. In reality, it is to appease the Trump base in Georgia and placate those who believe in stolen election conspiracy theories.
Time for Citizen’s Arrest Law To Go
Ahmaud Arbery was murdered on February 23, 2020. His killers were emboldened by Georgia’s antiquated citizen’s arrest law. This week, just days before the anniversary of this horrific tragedy, the Governor held a press conference detailing proposed legislation to repeal Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law. A law that has existed since the Civil War.
Current law allows any Georgian who believes they have witnessed a crime to arrest the suspect if the offense is committed in their presence or within their immediate knowledge. The proposed change, HB 479, still allows employees at a business, security officers, private investigators, and inspectors at truck scales to detain those they believe have committed a crime. It also allows off-duty police officers to make arrests outside their jurisdictions.
This is a bipartisan bill, and its passage is long overdue. Thank you to the advocacy groups, the Governor, and legislative leaders in both parties for getting us to this point to make positive, progressive change.
We, again, passed a good milestone this week, over 1.5 million vaccines distributed!
I continue to ask people to stay home, and if you have to go out, wear a mask or two, social distance, and wash your hands. HERE is a link if you need to get tested.
You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers at the Department of Public Health website HERE. DPH has also created an interactive dashboard for distribution in our state; you can view that HERE.
If you have any questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine only (not for scheduling appointments), call 888-357-0169.