2 DAYS LEFT! Next week is the final week of the legislative session. Monday is Day 39, and Wednesday is Day 40 (Sine Die!). Bills are moving quickly and being amended and substituted even faster. It will be interesting to see what makes it to the Governor when it is all said and done next Wednesday.
As many of you have likely already seen, this week will go down as a sad chapter in Georgia’s history books. The House and Senate both passed the omnibus voting bill. It passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor (behind closed doors) all within hours. Now the fight against these changes moves to the court system. In the meantime, we will prepare to fight and win elections no matter what the rules. No matter the rules, we will vote, and we will win!
Courts & Criminal Justice
I was proud to support SB 33, which creates a cause of action for survivors of human trafficking to recover damages and attorney’s fees against the perpetrator. The statute of limitations would be 10 years after the cause of action arises or when the survivor turns 18 if they were a minor at the time. This bill also authorizes the Attorney General to bring a lawsuit against a perpetrator when the interest of the citizens of this state is threatened or adversely affected by the perpetrator on behalf of the state.
SB 34 passed unanimously. This bill allows for survivors of human trafficking to petition for a name change under seal. Generally, if you want to change your name, it is a very public process on the record and in newspapers. This bill prevents this and allows survivors to change their names privately outside of the watchful eye of their traffickers.
SB 218 suspends public officials’ compensation while they are suspended from office due to a felony indictment. That is a good bill. But this bill was amended to add HB 411, which creates the Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission. That is not a good bill. It creates unnecessary bureaucracy of unelected appointees who would have the power to remove district attorneys and solicitor generals. Prosecutors are already subject to oversight by the Courts, the Legislature, and the State Bar. This “oversight commission” would have the power to discipline and remove prosecutors when complainants don’t like the kinds of cases they are bringing or not bringing. It is an attack on prosecutorial discretion. The commission will have eight members who will serve on one of the two distinct panels – an investigative and a hearing panel. The five-person investigative panel is responsible for investigating whether District Attorneys and/or Solicitor-Generals are in violation. The three-person hearing panel, which serves as the commission’s adjudicating body, will issue recommendations and advisory opinions. The commission will send their findings to the Supreme Court of Georgia to determine whether a District Attorney or Solicitor-General violated Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. The bill also outlines which information collected through the investigation and hearing will be confidential.
I voted against this bill and spoke against it on the House Floor. Watch my remarks HERE.
SR 134 proposes a constitutional amendment to suspend public officials’ compensation while they are suspended from office due to a felony indictment. Public official refers to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commission of Labor, or any General Assembly member. I voted for this measure. Georgia is currently paying two former insurance commissioners who are under felony indictments.
SB 47 is the expansion of a voucher program for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) Plan or Section 504 Plan (504 Plan) through the state’s existing Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act. Several new categories of eligible students were added, which expands the program before any study or transparency is added to the program. The bill would allow families to use state education dollars for uniforms, athletics, and other items not provided for parents of public schools. Further, the bill would require families to waive their rights to accommodations and their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Act. There is no accountability for the public money spent in this bill.
I voted and spoke against this bill because I do not believe in diverting public funds to private schools with zero accountability for those funds. You can watch my remarks HERE.
SB 153 would direct the Georgia General Assembly to study alternative education models and funding focused on dropout prevention, high school credit recovery, and other education services of adult and incarcerated students for the next two years. This bill would also require system-collaborative state charter schools to transition to alternative charter schools, which specialize in dropout prevention and high school credit recovery programs, in order for the schools to continue to receive the state charter supplement funding. I voted yes.
SB 159 passed, which allows alternate transportation vehicles for schools. We passed a House version earlier this session, but with the end of the session looming, this one moved faster through the committee process. I supported both bills.
The House unanimously passed legislation this week to ensure that Georgia students with disabilities do not miss out on HOPE Scholarship opportunities and funding. Under current law, students receiving the HOPE scholarship have ten years after graduating from high school to use their HOPE eligibility. SB 187 allows students with a disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, to make an application to the Georgia Student Finance Commission to have that deadline waived. If the deadline is waived, the student has until the time (1) the student has earned a bachelor’s degree or (2) the student has attempted to obtain a total of 127 semester hours, whichever comes first.
Election & Voting
SB 202 passed the House Floor and subsequently was agreed to by the Senate. I voted NO! Later in the evening, in a closed-door ceremony, GOP leadership who railroaded this bill through gathered to watch Governor Kemp sign it. This bill will continue to be fought everywhere, from the courts to the ballot box. As Rep. Burnough said in her remarks against the bill, we need to go ahead and make a plan to vote NOW.
Here’s what the bill does:
Section 3: Election Superintendent
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Grants the State Election Board power to appoint a single individual to act as election board. (HB 701)
Section 4: Fraud Hotline
- Establishes a voter fraud hotline which will be run and staffed by Attorney General; Attorney General is authorized to review each complaint to determine if a complaint should be investigated or prosecuted, WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS; Must accept anonymous tips.
Section 5: New State Election Board Chair
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Removes the Secretary Of State as a voting member and chair of the State Election Board. (HB 531)
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Creates a new State Election Board chair appointed by the state legislature. This gives the state legislature the power to appoint three out of the five members of the State Election Board.
Section 6: State Election Board Petition Takeover
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: State Election Board may suspend county and municipal superintendents.
- Update from HB 701: No more than four suspensions at one time.
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Requires the Secretary of State to provide any and all necessary support and assistance to the State Election Board, at the State Election Board’s sole discretion.
Section 7: State Legislature Initiated Takeovers
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Grants any county or municipal governing authority the power to petition the State Election Board for a complete Board of Elections takeover.
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: State Election Board may suspend, fire, or replace any county Board of Elections after petition if they find during hearing: more than three violations or evidence nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence in the administration of the elections in at least two election cycles.
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Deliberations on takeover/fire decisions by the State Election Board shall not be open to the public.
- County Costs & Legislative/State Election Board Power: Requires counties to pay for any suspended members salary as well as any new members and bars the county from paying for counsel for the State Election Board hearing.
Section 8: Emergency Rules
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: The State Election Board may only pass emergency rules in times of “circumstances of imminent peril to public health, safety, or welfare.”
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: The Secretary of State and State Election Board must notify the House of Representatives and Senate Committees on Judiciary at least five business days before entering into a consent agreement, settlement, or consent order.
Section 9: Private Grant Money
- Bans Board of Elections from accepting private grant money.
- The State Election Board will develop a report for the state legislature on methods for accepting grant money for elections in an equitable, statewide way by October 1, 2021.
Section 10: Probate Judge
- Probate Judge: In counties with no Board of Elections, the chief superior court judge will appoint a qualified individual as superintendent if the probate judge position is vacant or if the probate judge is incapacitated for more than five days.
Section 11: Poll Workers
- Poll Workers: Allows poll workers to serve in adjoining counties.
Section 12: State Election Board Led Takeover
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Grants governing authorities and as few as two state legislators the power to request that State Election Board to investigate local election officials for the purpose of removal from office.
- In counties represented by more than three members of the House and the Senate, at least two Representatives and at least two Senators must make the request. In counties represented by less than four members of the House and the Senate, at least one Representative and one Senator must make the request.
- After the request is transmitted to the State Election Board, the board appoints a three person “independent review board” composed of any two election officials from any county other than the county or municipality at issue and an employee of the Secretary of State’s office. The independent review board shall create a written performance review of any election official/county Board of Elections. *Note “local election official” is defined at beginning to include the entire county Board of Elections.
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: The review may be grounds for removal of the local election official.
- County Costs & Legislative/State Election Board Power: Requires the governing authority to reimburse the performance review board for any and all expenses.
Sections 13, 21, 37, 38: Candidate Death
- Candidate’s Death: In the event a candidate in a non-partisan election receives enough votes to win the election, but dies before the election, the contest is handled as failure to fill the office.
- Conforming changes at Sections 21, 37, 38
Section 14: Private Grant Money
- Bans Board of Registrars from accepting private grant money.
Section 15: Voter Challenges
- Voter Challenges: An elector can submit unlimited number of challenges to voters’ *right to remain registered.*
- Voter Challenges: Hearing must be held within 10 business days.
- Voter Challenges/Sanctions: County noncompliance will be sanctioned by the State Election Board
Section 16: Voter Challenges
- Voter Challenges: An elector can submit unlimited number of challenges to voters’ *right to vote.*
- Voter Challenges: Hearing must be held within 10 business days
- Voter Challenges/Sanctions: County noncompliance will be sanctioned by the State Election Board.
Section 17: ERIC
- Once becoming a member of a non-governmental entity, i.e. ERIC – Electronic Registration Information Center, the Secretary of State is required to obtain a list of voters who may have moved, died, or otherwise ineligible to vote in Georgia in order to conduct list maintenance.
Section 18: Precinct Splitting
- Precinct Splitting: If a precinct has 2,000+ voters and if there was a wait over one hour on the day of the election, the precinct must be split 60 days before the next general election or provide additional voting equipment or poll workers. (HB 531)
Section 19: Polling Place Notification
- Notification: Requires posting of signs if a polling place is moved. The signs must be posted during the seven days before and on the day of the first election following the change. At least one sign at the previous polling place must be at least four feet by four feet in size.
Sections 20, 26: Mobile Voting
- Mobile Voting: Mobile voting banned except in cases of emergency declared by the Governor.
Section 22: Voting Machine Ratio
- Voting Machines: Only requires 1 voting booth to 250 electors ratio formula in statewide general elections. For any other election it is at county discretion. (HB 531)
Section 23: Security Paper
- County Cost/Security Paper: Requires ballots be printed on secure paper that can be authenticated.
Section 24: Logic & Accuracy
- Logic & Accuracy Testing: Updates logic and accuracy testing notice requirements and adds requirement that counties notify the Secretary of State about logic and accuracy testing.
Section 25: Vote By Mail Applications & Sanctions
- Vote By Mail Application ID Requirements: Vote by Mail ballot applications must include the elector’s date of birth, address, and either their Georgia driver’s license number or their Georgia identification card number. If they do not have a Georgia driver’s license or ID card, then the voter must affirm so and provide a photocopy of their current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document showing name and address.
- Vote By Mail Application Period: Shortens the application period from starting 180 days and ending 4 days before Election Day, to starting 78 days and ending 11 days before Election day.
- Vote By Mail Application Rejections: Ballots received outside of this time period shall be rejected.
- Vote By Mail Signature Match: Repeals signature match for applications.
- Vote By Mail Application & Legislative/State Election Board Power: Bans Secretary of State and counties from sending Vote By Mail applications without voter’s request.
- Third Parties: If sending applications, must use the Secretary of State’s form that contains a disclaimer that the application is not from a governmental entity.
- Criminalization: New misdemeanor for ballot collection. Only elector or those authorized by law to assist can handle or return completed Vote By Mail application.
- Criminalization/Third Parties: State Election Board can sanction individuals or groups $100 for each duplicate absentee ballot application to be paid to each affected county or municipality. No liability if person/entity relied upon updated Secretary of State information within five days of mailing.
- Vote By Mail Application/Ballot: Repeals law requiring ballot to be mailed to unregistered eligible voters who apply for Vote By Mail application and return registration card in time. (Current law says unregistered eligible voters who submit Vote By Mail application, must be mailed a registration card and if that card is returned, mailed a ballot.)
Section 26: Drop Boxes
- Mobile Voting: Bans mobile voting.
- Drop Boxes: County Boards of Registrars must establish at least one drop box.
- Drop Boxes: Limits number of additional drop boxes to the lessor of one drop box per 100,000 active registered voters or number of advance voting locations in the county.
- Drop Boxes: Requires additional drop boxes be “evenly geographically distribution by population.”
- Drop Boxes: Limits drop box access to only at the office of board of registrars or absentee ballot or inside early vote locations, only during county early voting hours, and only with in-person surveillance.
- Drop Boxes: Allows drop boxes to be outside ONLY during a public emergency declared by the Governor.
- Drop Boxes: Establishes drop box chain of custody requirements.
Section 27: Vote By Mail Oath
- Vote By Mail Ballot: Shortens mail-out period for ballots from 49-45 days to 29-25 days before election, except for federal Uniformed Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act voters. The Vote by Mail ballot outer envelope must include a space for the elector to print their name, date of birth, their Georgia driver’s license number or their Georgia identification card number, a space to affirm that they do not have a Georgia drivers’ license or identification card, a space to print the last four digits of their social security number, and must include a signature line.
- Vote By Mail Ballot: Timely applications shall have ballots, provisionals, or notices sent in response as soon as possible, within three days if in early voting.
- Vote By Mail Ballot Emergency: Extends the period a hospitalized person can request a ballot from 5 days to 10 days before an election.
- Criminalization: It makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to unseal an absentee ballot envelope.
- Criminalization: Vote By Mail Ballot envelope must include signed oath that voter has not allowed anyone to see them mark ballot and will not let any unauthorized person to return ballot.
- Criminalization: Vote By Mail Ballot envelope will include State Election Board fraud hotline number for voter to report anyone that saw them mark ballot or offered to return ballot.
- Instant Run-off: Provides for instant run-offs ballots for voters entitled to vote absentee by mail under the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act using ranked choice voting.
Section 28: Early Voting & Vote By Mail Ballot
- Vote By Mail Ballot ID Requirements: On the outside Vote By Mail ballot outer envelope, the elector must print their date of birth and either their Georgia driver’s license number or their Georgia identification card number. If they do not have a driver’s license or ID card, then the voter must affirm so and provide the last four digits of their social security number. If the elector does not have a Georgia driver’s license/identification card or social security number then the voter must affirm so and provide a photocopy of either their current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document showing name and address.
- Early Voting: Mandates two Saturdays of early voting and two optional Sunday voting days.
- Early Voting: Requires early vote hours to be 9am-5pm, with an option to extend to 7am – 7pm.
- Early Voting: Prohibits voting on observed state holidays.
- Early Voting: Counties are prohibited from extending hours/days outside of these provision
- Early Voting: Reduces runoff election early voting to only the five weekdays the week prior to the runoff election.
- Early Voting: Requires that counties report by 10am every business day an updated number of all ballots issued, accepted, rejected, or waiting to be cured.
Section 29: Early Tabulation
- Early Tabulation: Election superintendent can begin opening and scanning ballots beginning on the third Monday prior to an election but tabulation can only occur after the polls close on Election Day.
- Poll Watchers: The county party or if there is no county party, the state party can designate two observers, and candidates can designate one other watcher. Monitors may not record or interfere.
Section 30: Audits
- Audits: Secretary of State can inspect or audit the information contained in the absentee ballot envelopes at their discretion at any time during the 24 month retention period.
- Flag: Section 5 would let State Election Board order Secretary of State to conduct an audit whenever they wanted.
Section 31: Extension
- Poll Hour Extensions: Poll hours may be extended only by order of a judge of the superior court of county with “clear and convincing evidence.”
- Poll Hour Extensions: Any order extending poll hours past 9pm will be a written order with specific findings of fact supporting the extension.
Section 32: Observing
- Poll Watchers: Poll watchers must be able to fairly observe the procedures set forth in this Code section.
- Poll Watchers: Poll watchers must be trained by the party designating the poll watcher. Party must certify under oath that the watchers have completed the training.
Section 33: Linewarming
- Linewarming: Bans (makes it a misdemeanor) giving food and drink within 150 feet of a polling location, inside the polling place, or within 25 feet of anyone standing in line.
- Linewarming: Allows self-service water from UNATTENDED receptacles.
Section 34: Out-Of-Precinct (OOP)
- Out-Of-Precinct Votes: All OOP provisional ballots cast prior to 5:00PM will be thrown out.
- Out-Of-Precinct Votes: After 5:00pm on Election Day, OOP voters may cast a provisional ballot after executing a sworn statement, witnessed by the poll official, stating why they are unable to vote at their correct precinct.
Section 35: OOP
- Out-Of-Precinct Votes: Provisional ballots cast out of precinct will only be counted if the voter voted on Election Day, between 5pm and the regular closing time, and provided a sworn statement as required by Section 33.
- Out-Of-Precinct Votes: The ballot and sworn statement will be sent to the Secretary of State and will be reviewed by the State Election Board.
Section 36: 24/7 Tabulation
- Reporting: After the close of the polls, the poll manager must report the total number of ballots cast including all provisional ballots.
- Reporting: No later than 10:00pm on Election Day, the election superintendent must report to the Secretary of State and post publicly 1) the number of votes cast in person on election day including provision ballots, 2) the number of in person advanced votes, 3) the total number of absentee ballots received by the appropriate deadline.
- Reporting: Any discrepancy between the initial poll manager report and the 10:00pm report shall be investigated and reported to the Secretary of State.
- Nonstop Tabulation: After the polls close, the count and tabulation may not stop until all ballots have been tabulated.
Section 39: Duplication Panels
- Duplication Panels: Duplication panel must have: 1) Election superintendent/designee and 2) one person from each party represented on the ballot.
Section 40: Tabulation
- Tabulation: Results will begin to be counted at the close of polls on Election Day.
Section 41: Certification
- Certification: Cuts certification deadline from 10 days after election to 5 days (from second Friday after to first Monday).
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Removes Secretary of State power to extend certification deadline for audit.
Section 42: Runoff Date
- Runoff: All runoffs will be held 28 days following the preceding election.
Sections 43 – 45: Jungle Primary
- End Jungle Primary: Eliminates the jungle primary for vacant United States Senate seats.
Section 46: Judicial Appointments
- Governor Judicial Appointments: Vacancies in the office of chief judge of civil/magistrate court will be filled by the Governor’s appointment until January 1 of the year following the next general election which is more than six months following such person’s appointment.
Section 47: Ballot Collection
- Criminalization-Ballot Collection: Makes absentee ballot collection a felony.
Section 48: No Peeking
- Criminalization: People who photograph or record any ballot marking device while a voter is voting OR any voted ballot (including absentee ballots) will be guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Criminalization: No person shall intentionally observe elector voting except those authorized. Any person who violates the provisions of subsection (a) of this Code section shall be guilty of a felony. Exempts all children under 12 and a voter’s child under 18.
Section 49: Census
- Census: Gives municipal authorities a 120-day buffer after census publicized to reapportion districts.
Section 50: Emergency Rules
- Legislative/State Election Board Power: Emergency rules must be submitted to the House and Senate Judiciary committees within 20 days. Any emergency rule may be overruled by a majority vote of either the House or Senate Judiciary Committee within 10 days of receiving notice of the rule.
Section 51: Ballot Images
- Ballot Images: Scanned ballot images are public records.
Section 52: Effective Date
- Effective Date: Sections 21, 23, 25, 27, 28 and 29 are effective on July 1, 2021. All others are effective upon the Governor’s signature.
Section 53: All Conflicting Repealed
- All conflicting laws repealed.
* Special thanks to Fair Fight and the Georgia House Democratic Caucus for putting together this list. *
SB 6 allows for the study of up to 5 requests each year for economic analysis of existing law or proposed law on a particular tax benefit such as tax exemption, tax credit, or preferential tax. Such financial analysis will contain a five-year study of a net change in the state’s revenue and expenditures and the change in economic activity and public benefit.
SB 6 also adds in the language from SB 148. It creates the 2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians to conduct a study of the state’s current revenue structure and recommend legislation to the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor no later than January 10, 2022. This Code section will be repealed on July 1, 2023.
This bill also adds HB 587, which creates job tax credits and extends sunset dates for other tax credits. SB 6 includes HB 586, which relates to the exemption of several sales and use taxes, including an exemption of sales and use taxes for sales of tickets, fees, or charges for admission to a fine arts performance or exhibition conducted in a facility owned by a 501(c)(3) organization or a museum of cultural significance and would sunset December 31, 2022. This will help our arts community, which is still unable to open for performances because of COVID-19. I voted yes for the bill.
SB 145 allows for 3 ounces of distilled spirits with a maximum of 2 drinks to be picked up for carrying out from restaurants. This bill requires specific containers as well as requirements for transportation of the beverages from the establishment. I voted yes.
SB 32 protects federal and state employees by preventing their private information from being public. This includes personal mobile or wireless phone numbers and the home addresses on publicly available rosters of licenses and applications maintained by the division directors of professional licensing boards. I voted yes.
Families that have lost a loved one due to COVID are eligible for funeral expense assistance through FEMA. Expenses from COVID-19 related funerals incurred between January 20, 2020, and December 31, 2020, can be reimbursed with the appropriate documentation. While some details are being finalized, I encourage you to gather and keep all documentation you can so when the program is up and running, you can apply. Please visit the FEMA website, HERE, for more information.
HERE is a link if you need to get tested.
Find a Georgia vaccine distributor HERE.
DPH has an interactive dashboard for vaccine distribution in our state; you can view that 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.