This week was intense. We considered many bills—some good, many bad. I was active on the floor asking questions and speaking out against bad bills that I think will hurt Georgians.
On the bright side, this week we passed bills that will provide a tax refund to Georgians, help protect children from lead in the water, and discourage employers from misclassifying their workers—shirking taxes and hurting working people in the process, among a few other good measures.
On the negative side, we passed what I call “bumper sticker” election year bills that are really solutions in search of problems were there are none. With all the things we could do to help Georgians, it is disheartening that we spend so much time debating bills that will ultimately not move us forward.
There is still a long way to go and I expect many more long days and tough fights. It is an honor to be your voice under the Gold Dome.
“Bad Neighbor Bill”
On Thursday, the House debated and passed House Bill 1150. This bill purports to protect small farmers from nuisance lawsuits, but what it really does is remove certainty from a law that has protected Georgia farmers since 1989. The bill also infringes on private property rights and will discourage big industrial polluters from taking reasonable precautions against pollution. I spoke out against this bill because it creates confusion, threatens current protections for farmers and encourages bad neighbors. To hear more on this legislation, watch my speech below.
The So-Called “Parents Bill of Rights”
HB 1178 further strains the relationship between parents and teachers. This bill purports to provide more classroom transparency for parents, but what it really does is sows distrust and burdens our already overworked teachers. Bill proponents admitted that most of the information allegedly made available to parents in the bill is already available. What it creates, is a paperwork nightmare for teachers with no resources to deal with it. I spoke out against this bill when it came across the House Floor on Friday. To watch my speech opposing this bill, click below.
Protecting Court Access for All
HB1393 was introduced in Judiciary Committee this week. The bill would remove judicial flexibility to pause evictions during a judicial emergency. During the pandemic, many things were paused that we didn’t want to pause. I don’t see any fairness in taking away judicial flexibility in one area, while keeping it for others. Not to mention it seems terrible policy to claim it is more important to kick renters out of their homes than to handle other court cases, like prosecution of crimes. This bill was assigned to subcommittee after several issues with the bill were highlighted. I’ll be watching closely and voting no if this bill moves forward. Listen to my committee remarks by clicking below.
Other Votes this Week
HB 1292 prevents schools from counting students who participate in 4-H programs as absent on the days they participate. 4-H representatives shall provide documentation to the schools and school systems to verify student attendance. I fondly remember participating in 4-H as a student. It is a wonderful program, and we should encourage participation. I voted yes.
HB 1303 changes an existing elementary agricultural education pilot program into an ongoing program, which the Department of Education shall administer in elementary schools that choose to implement the program. Agriculture is Georgia’s #1 industry and I think this program is a great way to expose as many children as possible to the opportunities in agriculture in our state. I voted yes.
HB 1084 is one of the many such bills sweeping across the country based on the former administration’s executive order prohibiting diversity, equity and inclusion training. The problems with the bill lie not with what the bill does legally, but rather what the likely impact of this bill will be in the classroom. Parents and teacher’s groups predict that this bill will severely constrain classroom discussion. It also set up an incredibly resource-intensive process complaint and appeals process, which will further act to chill classroom discussion that may technically be allowed, but nonetheless may lead to a parental complaint.
Health and Human Services
HB 1355 updates the Childhood Lead Exposure Act to reflect a much lower, more medically correct minimum level of lead concentration to confirm lead poisoning in children. The bill also updates definitions of lead poisoning hazards and incorporates references to outdoor hazards related to soil. It further provides more specific measures for lead abatement, including details on removal of lead-based paint. It also adds owners and operators of daycare facilities and schools to the list of parties that the Department of Public Health must advise in writing to undertake additional protective measures such as routine cleaning when a resident child has been identified with lead poisoning. I voted yes.
HB 1348 updates the 2005 Smoke-Free Air Act to include banning vaping in tobacco smoke-free areas. Employers must communicate workplace vaping bans to employees by January 1, 2023. I voted yes.
HB 1064 exempts up to $17,500 of military retirement income for individuals under 62 years of age from being taxed by the State of Georgia. If a military retiree has Georgia earned income and earns at least $17,500 from non-military sources, they are allowed to exempt an additional $17,500 of income from state income tax. The bill would be effective July 1, 2022 and would be applicable to all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. I voted yes, but I hope this bill will get even better in the Senate by exempting income up to $17,500 instead of requiring that threshold before the exemption kicks in.
HB 1302 provides for a one-time tax credit for individual taxpayers who filed income taxes during 2020 and 2021. This tax credit does not apply to non-resident aliens, individuals claimed as dependents, estates, or trusts. Individuals who qualify for this tax credit will receive a tax refund equal to the lesser of the taxpayer’s income liability for 2021, or an amount based on the taxpayer’s marital status. Single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing a separate tax return shall receive a $250 tax credit, head of the households will receive a $375 tax credit, and married taxpayers filing jointly will receive a $500 tax credit. The estimated cost of this tax credit is approximately $1.6 billion. I voted yes.
HB 1274 codifies the definition of antisemitism as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The bill also allows all state departments and agencies to use antisemitism as evidence of discriminatory intent when applying any law or policy that that prohibits discrimination, including those in which enhanced criminal penalties may apply with a finding that a victim was selected because of their race, color, religion, or national origin. I voted yes.
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism is as follows: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The illustrations of the definition demonstrate that anti-semitism does not include “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country.”
HB 1188 amends code provisions to increase penalties for child molestation. When a person undertakes an immoral or indecent act involving touching a child under the age of 16, touching of different areas of the child’s body will constitute separate, individual offenses of molestation. Additionally, concerning the creation, distribution, and possession of visual media that depict children engaging in explicit sexual conduct, each image and each transaction with that image shall now count as a separate offense. I voted yes.
HB 1324 mandates insurance coverage, including under Medicaid, for emergency care on the basis of a “prudent layperson” standard, without regard to the actual diagnosis. This means that as long as a prudent layperson would believe that they needed emergency medical attention on the basis of their symptoms, an insurance company must cover an emergency room visit regardless of the ultimate diagnosis. Failure to adhere to this standard by an insurer would constitute an unfair claims settlement practice. The bill also clarifies that this standard includes both physical and mental conditions. I voted yes.
Industry and Labor
HB 389 deals with employee misclassification. It expands worker protections by redefining “employment” applicable to the Employment Security Law to include services performed by an individual for wages. The bill explicitly carves out workers who perform delivery services for ride share network services, and other services that can be enabled through online application (“gig” work).
These workers will be excluded from the statutory definition of employee if they meet the requirements listed. The primary conditions include no restrictions from working for other companies simultaneously and no required work hours or days. The bill levies a civil penalty on employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors. I voted yes.
HB 1377 provides that if an employer other than a government entity does not properly withhold and deduct estimated income tax from employee wages, any person may bring a civil action and seek injunctive relief forcing the employer to comply with withholding requirements. There need not be any showing of irreparable damage. A party bringing suit must file a bond with the court against wrongly granted injunctions. The court will award all costs and expenses of litigation, including attorney’s fees, to the prevailing party. The only remedy available under the law is injunctive relief. This bill will help discourage businesses from shirking on employment taxes. I voted yes.
Arts and Entertainment
HB 508 prohibits individuals from advertising or performing licensed music in Georgia unless the person or performing group is the registrant for the recording group, or at least one member of the performing group was also a member of the recording group and has the legal right to use the name of the recording group, or the performance is publicly advertised as a promotion, salute, or tribute to the recording group. This restriction prevents cover or tribute bands from falsely advertising themselves as the licensed performing artist. We must protect artists. I voted yes.
SB 472 establishes new district lines for the Public Service Commission. The districts follow county lines and move major counties between districts. This map would move Gwinnett County from District 2 into District 4. The commissioner for district 2 is up for re-election in 2022; District 4 was just elected in 2020, so will not be eligible to elect a new representative 2026. Thus, voters in Gwinnett County will have to wait a full ten years to elect the commissioner who represent them in the commission. In addition, the new map eliminates a majority minority district. I voted no.
Save the Date!
We will be having our second town hall of the 2022 Legislative Session on March 22nd. State Senator Sonya Halpern and I will bring you the latest news from the Gold Dome post-crossover day and answer any of your questions. Please register here for this virtual event.
Updated COVID-19 guidance from the CDC:
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/
Find a COVID-19 test:
DPH Testing Locations: https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting
Order COVID-19 at-home test:
You can request free at-home COVID-19 tests here. You can order four at-home tests per household that will be delivered by the USPS.
Find COVID-19 case and vaccine numbers
DPH Case Dashboard: https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report
DPH Vaccine Dashboard:
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.