My colleagues and I convened for the third week of the 2022 legislative session on Monday, January 24th. The pace under the Gold Dome is picking up, bills are being debated and voted on, and committee meetings are meeting regularly to discuss important issues that impact our state.
Join me for a Virtual Town Hall
My first town hall for this session is February 10, 2022 from 7:00-8:30pm. State Senator Sonya Halpern and I will bring you the latest news from the Gold Dome and answer your questions. Please register here for this virtual event.
Votes this week
This week the House considered HB 841. This bill would create the city of East Cobb. The bill went through several iterations and Cobb County residents voiced concerns about the potential cost to the new city residents and the lack of definitive answers about many city services. Three other cities have been proposed within Cobb County and many Cobb County legislators asked that the proposed city of East Cobb be considered alongside the other three cities. As a result of these concerns from Cobb residents and my colleagues, I voted no. The bill passed by a slim margin and may be reconsidered next week.
Mental Health Takes Center Stage
I was thrilled this week to see Speaker David Ralston introduce House Bill 1013. This bipartisan bill would bring monumental and comprehensive reforms to our state’s mental health care delivery system, including the following highlights:
- Increase patient access to care by expanding the list of practitioners who are able to see patients, expanding telemedicine options and requiring insurers to cover certain mental health services.
- Ensure mental health parity for providers and patients so that mental health coverage is equal to physical health coverage.
- Strengthen the state’s mental health workforce development initiatives by providing service cancelable loans for mental health/medical professionals who work in pediatrics, psychiatry, mental health and substance abuse care.
I look forward to voting yes for this important legislation when it makes it to the House floor.
The proposed city of Buckhead
As you have likely read, there is a movement to de-annex the neighborhood of Buckhead from the City of Atlanta to create the new city of Buckhead. This would be disastrous for our City and also risks the State’s AAA Bond rating.
The movement is led by a recent transplant from New York City, whereas a group of long time City of Atlanta residents has organized the opposition. You can follow them on Twitter here.
The proposed city of Buckhead is different from past successful efforts in Georgia to create cities. This would be the first time in Georgia history that a portion of an existing city de-annexed, or separated, from that city. Other cities that you’ve seen come into existence in recent years, for example Sandy Springs, were unincorporated portions of their counties, meaning they were part of a county, but not yet part of any city. A city movement that involves de-annexing from an existing city like the proposed city of Buckhead is full of complications that don’t exist with the creation of brand new cities. For example, here, proponents of the city of Buckhead have not explained what would happen to the thousands of students who attend City of Atlanta schools. Get your questions about the proposed city of Buckhead answered here.
I am increasingly frustrated with the dishonest tactics of those behind the city of Buckhead movement. I gave voice to some of that frustration in a recent interview with WSB. Watch the clip here.
Let’s keep teachers free to teach
Republicans in both chambers have introduced legislation to “stop” the teaching of critical race theory. Importantly, critical race theory is not taught in our K-12 schools in Georgia.
HB 888 includes language that would effectively end some of the best parts of any high school civics or history class, including:
– Stifle discussion of current events: “No public elementary or secondary school administrator, teacher, or other personnel shall compel or attempt to compel any individual to engage in or observe a discussion of any public policy issue.” [lines 101-103]
– Hamstring schools from engaging outside speakers to enhance the classroom experience: “No state agency, local board of education, or public elementary or secondary school shall use public funds to contract with, hire, or otherwise engage speakers, consultants, trainers, and other persons.” [lines 120-122]
The bill also creates unfunded mandates for local school districts to create bureaucracy to “policy” teachers. Read the bill yourself here.
I recently spoke out about the wrong headedness of this legislation. Watch here.
I’ll continue to speak out and fight against this legislation.
Meet my Chief of Staff
Today I’d like to introduce you to my new chief of staff, Kennedie McClung.
Kennedie graduated from Oglethorpe University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and minored in Sociology. She previously worked as chief of staff to my colleague, Representative Kausche of District 50. She is originally from Atlanta and enjoys helping the constituents of her hometown. She would like to attend law school next year and pursue a career in politics and law. I am thrilled to have her on my team! You can contact her at [email protected]
This year is the second year of a two-year session. Last year I sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills that would help move our state forward. You’ve heard about these bills before, but I’ve included summaries of the bills below. These bills are still in the committee process and I hope will proceed further this year.
I’m in the process of sponsoring a number of other pieces of legislation. Stay tuned!
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.
HB 87 This bill makes it easier for students to start their studies to earn associates degrees at local technical colleges. This bill received a hearing last year.
HB 88 This bill ensures that HOPE Grants for technical college covers full tuition. Students in technical college are the most price sensitive in higher education and any amount less than full tuition jeopardizes the ability of students to complete their studies. This bill received a hearing last year.
The current budget proposal includes funding for HOPE Grants for technical college at 90% (up from 76%). It would cost less than $4 million to fully fund HOPE Grants.
HB 89 This bill adds the ability for students to earn the Zell Miller Scholarship (the only full tuition HOPE Scholarship for 4-year colleges and universities) after high school graduation. Currently without a 1200 SAT upon high school graduation, students cannot receive a full tuition scholarship, and even if students earn a 4.0 every semester of their college careers, they can never receive the full tuition scholarship. This bill also received a hearing last year.
HB 499 This bill would eliminate 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. This bill is an excellent local control measure that would also help working families.
Privacy & Consumer protection
HB 115 I co-sponsored this bill. It 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 I co-sponsored this bill. The Prescription Drug Consumer Financial Protection Act will save consumers money by offering/passing rebates on to them.
Good Government and Voting
HR 55 I co-sponsored this resolution, which 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 I co-sponsored this resolution, which 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 I co-sponsored this resolution, which would allow 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 I co-sponsored this resolution, which 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.
See other legislation I’ve sponsored here.
Nominate an Energy Champion
Strategy Blue in partnership with Commissioner Tim G. Echols is hosting the 2022 Inaugural Energy Matters Awards! I would like to recognize the accomplishments of energy and sustainability in Georgia. I will be nominating constituents to Commissioner Tim Echols, who will reach out to finish the application. The award categories are
- Best sustainability project by a city
- Best sustainability project by small company (under 50 employees)
- Best sustainability project by large company
- Best sustainability project by faith community
- Best sustainability project by transportation related company
- Best sustainability project by manufacturing company
- Best sustainability project by hospitality industry
- Best sustainability project by educational institution
- EV implementation award for large company
- EV implementation award for small company
- EV implementation award for institutions
- EV autonomous award
- Best municipal energy efficiency award
- Best institutional energy efficiency award
- CNG implementation award
- Best fleet transition award
- Best recycling/reuse award
If you or someone you know qualifies please reach out to me at [email protected] and I will pass forward your nomination. Nominations will be submitted through March 31st.
You can now request free at-home COVID-19 tests here. You can order four at-home tests per household that will be delivered by the USPS.
How to find a vaccine?
Health Department Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line
Monday – Friday 8 AM – 8 PM ET
Saturday – Sunday 8 AM – 5 PM ET
Health Department Vaccine Schedule Web Portal: https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us/en-US/
Vaccine Finder: https://www.vaccines.gov/
CORE Vaccination Pop-Up Events: https://www.coreresponse.org/covid-19/atlanta-ga
DPH Case Dashboard: https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report
DPH Vaccine Dashboard: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/3d8eea39f5c1443db1743a4cb8948a9c
DPH Testing Locations: https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting
As always, it is an honor to represent you under the Gold Dome. Please share your thoughts on legislation and let me know if you need help with any state agency.