We have 16 legislative days left under the Gold Dome. Crossover Day (Day 28) will be March 8th. Aptly named as the last day for a bill to pass either the House or Senate to stay alive for the session (with some tricky exceptions!). Our last day (Sine Die!) will be March 31st. This was a busy week full of twists, turns, and surprises. Next week promises to be full of the same.
(Public policy discussion with Morehouse School of Medicine Pediatric Residents)
Bills that Passed the House
Stepping all over local control.
This week the House passed two more bills restricting local control of decisions on policy and funding. I voted NO on both HB 150 and HB 286.
HB 150 restricts local governments from adopting policies that prohibit a customer’s connection to a gas service or electric utility or prohibit liquid petroleum gas sales directly to a consumer. Some municipalities have passed progressive resolutions committing themselves to transition to 100% clean energy sources. This bill takes away options from those governments.
HB 286 prevents counties and municipalities from decreasing their police force’s annual budget by more than 5%. Commissioners and councilors know more about their budgetary needs than the 180 Representatives on the House Floor. This is a direct affront to the ideas brought up by the Black Lives Matter Movement. Instead of prohibiting local governments from better managing their funds, we should be praising them for looking at how they spend taxpayer dollars and working to make their communities safer for all of their citizens. This bill is not about whether or not you support the police. We all want safe communities. We ask too much of our law enforcement. Can one person be expected to handle a person in crisis, report traffic violations, interview victims of all forms of assault, catch criminals, be a child advocate, a marriage counselor, a negotiator, use force when appropriate, and so much more? We are setting them up for failure. We would be better off, and our police better supported, if we invested in mental health and prevention and diversionary programs instead of putting all our focus on punishment. This bill takes away flexibility from local governments to create holistic solutions to problems in their communities.
We passed several bills aimed at increasing access to healthcare in our state. I voted YES on these bills.
HB 234. The “Self-funded Healthcare Plan Opt-in to the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act” allows for self-funded healthcare plans to opt-in to the “Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act.” Each plan must opt-in by January 1st or the starting date of its plan and notify the Department of Insurance commissioner at least 30 days before the effective date. The Department of Insurance must maintain a list of self-funded plans which have opted-in.
HB 307 revises the Georgia Telehealth Act to give more protection to consumers using insurance to pay for telemedicine services. I was happy to support this bill because insurance companies require some patients to have in-person consultations before telemedicine services and have charged separate deductibles for these services.
HB 509. If the “prohibition of preexisting conditions” sections of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were to be repealed or found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, insurers issuing or delivering individual major medical health insurance policies in this state would be required to offer at least one affordable, comprehensive approach that does not exclude preexisting conditions. Listen, it is way past time for Georgia to expand Medicaid. I think at this point it is safe to say Congress is NOT going to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the now out of majority Congressional Republicans tried this time after time after time). Still, this bill would ensure no matter what, Georgians with preexisting conditions will be protected.
The following bills ease licensing requirements for those moving into our state, particularly military families. These measures aim to make it easier for military families to transition their licenses to work in our state. I was proud to vote YES on each of these bills.
HB 34 would enter Georgia into the “Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact.” Under the Compact, applicants for licensure must pass a national fingerprint record check report conducted by the Georgia Crime Information Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The purpose of the Compact is to improve access to audiology and speech-language pathology services. The bill sets guidelines and requirements for licensure and a process to take adverse action against an audiologist or speech-language pathologist’s privileges. The bill also establishes the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Compact Commission. The Compact will come into effect after the 10th member state enacts a law to join.
HB 268 would enter Georgia into the Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact, so long as there is passage in a total of 10 states. The State Board of Occupational Therapy would administer this Compact. This would allow occupational therapists to practice in other Compact states so long as they maintain their home state license in good standing. This would include active-duty military and their spouses. This bill would also require the board to complete national FBI background checks of all applicants.
HB 395 would enter Georgia into the Professional Counselors Licensure Compact, so long as there is passage in a total of 10 states. This Compact would be administered by the Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Works, and Marriage and Family Therapists. This would allow counselors to practice in other Compact states so long as they maintain their home state license in good standing. This would include active-duty military and their spouses. This bill would also require the board to complete national Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks of all applicants.
HB 218 puts more guns on our streets without proper safeguards and ties law enforcement hands in emergencies. I voted NO.
HB 218 authorizes a person licensed to carry a handgun or long gun in another state to carry the same in this state. This bill also adds to the list of actions a state actor cannot take during an emergency. These actions include 1) seizure of and prohibiting the possession of ammunition loading equipment/supplies or weapons; 2) prohibiting the sale of any firearm, weapon, ammunition, or ammunition reloading equipment/supplies; 3) suspend or revoke any weapons carry license (except as already authorized); 4) refuse to accept or deny any properly submitted weapons carry license application (except as already authorized); and 5) close or limit the operations of any firearms business/shooting range unless the same restrictions are applied to all businesses in the same jurisdiction. This bill would also create a right of action for individuals with carrying licenses and for organizations with at least two individuals who have a carry license. Individuals withstanding are authorized to recover the greater of the actual damages plus litigation and attorney’s fees or liquidated damages equaling three times the litigation costs and attorney’s fees.
HB 218 is a vast, unnecessary increase of weapons carry license reciprocity that does not benefit Georgians. It takes discretion away from the Attorney General to decide whether to enter into reciprocity agreements with other states. This means that individuals from constitutional carry states and states with lax weapons carry license requirements would be legally permitted to carry guns in this state. Also, this bill gives gun stores and gun ranges a special status in this state during a state of emergency.
Education and Children.
HB 442. Currently, parenting plans must allocate decision-making authority to a parent or jointly to both parents regarding a child’s education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing. HB 442 adds “management of social media.” I voted yes for this bill.
HB 455 authorizes local boards of education to transport students with a vehicle with the capacity of 8 people or less. This is an excellent local control measure that gives our schools flexibility to efficiently utilize transportation services to ensure all children have transportation to and from school. Atlanta Public Schools supported this bill, and I was a proud co-sponsor.
It is a little-known fact that if a student becomes homeless or temporarily moves out of the district, the school is still responsible for transporting them to and from school. This means a school system may need to send transportation across several counties. This bill allows schools the flexibility to send a smaller vehicle instead of a big yellow bus to pick up only one student.
Looking out for the Disabled.
HB 437 would require that attendants at self-service gas stations assist individuals with a visible special disability permit who are not accompanied by a person sixteen years of age or older who is not mobility impaired or blind. Also, the gas stations must post an operational telephone number on each pump by which the attendant can be reached to assist the caller. This is a good bill, and I was proud to vote yes.
Honoring Senator Johnny Isakson.
HR 119 dedicates the bridge on State Route 307 over Georgia Ports Authority Mega Rail Site in Chatham County as the Senator Johnny Isakson Bridge. We could use more of Senator Isakson’s brand of politics. While I certainly did not agree with all of his policy stances, he was always a calm voice willing to reach across the aisle to do good. I was proud to vote in favor of naming this bridge for him.
Town Hall on HB 201
HB 201 would facilitate the community school model for our public schools, including providing wrap-around services, such as counseling, food pantries, and clothes closets. These interventions can make all the difference for our children who come to school wanting to learn while living in crisis at home. This bill would create a board of education certification and report 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.
Please join me, State Representative Karen Bennett, Verdailla Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, and others as we discuss this important legislation.
Voting Bills Update
HB 270 makes the deadline to request an absentee ballot 10 days before Election Day. This bill is now before the House Rules Committee to be placed on the House Calendar for a vote.
HB 531, the (now) 66-page omnibus election bill, spent less than a week in the committee. It seems pretty convenient the sponsor of the bill is also the special committee chair. It was railroaded through and passed through Rules Committee on Friday after changing multiple times in the subcommittee and full committee this week. It is slated to be on the House Floor on Monday. Speaker Ralston has the discretion of when to call it, so it could be a later date. Each side has been given only 30 minutes of debate. Limiting the time to debate to this far-reaching and oppressive bill is wrong. I will certainly be voting NO.
SB 67 requires voters to submit a copy of their ID, a drivers license number, or other state ID when requesting an absentee ballot. This bill has crossed over to the House and will now enter the House committee process.
SB 89 passed through the Senate and is now in the House for review. This measure creates a Chief Elections Assistance Officer within the SOS Office to handle low-performing county election offices.
SB 93 is expected to be heard on the Senate Floor this week. This bill limits the use of mobile voting buses only to emergencies.
SB 68, SB 69, SB 70, SB 72, SB 73, and SB 74 have not moved from the Ethics Committee. I think Senate Republicans expect HB 531 to pass the House because these bills will be obsolete because all are wrapped up in HB 531.
(Graphic courtesy of the GA House Democratic Caucus)
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.
Governor Kemp announced this week that he would be adding teachers to the Phase 1A vaccine group. Vaccines will be available starting March 8th.
DPH has an interactive dashboard for vaccine distribution in our state; you can view that HERE.
As a reminder for those still waiting to find an appointment, the demand for Phase 1A+ far outweighs vaccine supply. The vaccine is limited, and the state does not currently have enough supply to schedule an appointment for everyone who needs one. Many health departments are only scheduling appointments for the vaccine allotment they have and may have to pause their appointments from time to time. As more vaccine arrives, more appointments will become available. A full listing of vaccine locations accepting members of the public is available HERE.
The GEMA mass vaccination sites allow patients to enroll HERE.
If you have any questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine only (not for scheduling appointments), call 888-357-0169.
(as of 2:55 pm on February 27, 2021)