What a week! I started off the week qualifying to run again for the honor of representing House District 57. We spent the rest of the week working in committees and passing dozens of bills through the House floor.
On Tuesday, we will be back at the Capitol for Day 28/Crossover Day. This is one of the longest days in our legislative session—we’ll likely be voting until midnight. “Crossover Day” is aptly named because it is the last day a bill must pass either the House or Senate to survive for the session.
Qualifying and Thank You!
On Monday, I qualified to run again for the honor of representing you in the State House as the State Representative for House District 57. No other democrat qualified, so I’m so excited to share with you that I will be the democratic nominee for HD 57! A libertarian candidate qualified to run for House District 57. But he will need to obtain the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot in November. I look forward to earning your vote once again!
Town Hall March 22nd
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.
HB 911 is the FY 2023 budget. This budget dedicates all of our state funds for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, and ends the following year on June 30, 2023. The FY 2023 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, which is a $2.9 billion or 10.8 percent increase over the FY 2022 original budget, and this budget permanently restores nearly $640 million eliminated from the budget in FY 2021 during the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. I voted yes.
A comprehensive list of FY 2023 highlights from the House Budget and Research Office can be found here.
Mental Health Parity Act
This week the House passed HB 1013 or the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act, which provides comprehensive reforms for our state’s mental health care system and gives Georgians struggling with mental illness the resources they need. The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act would require health insurance plans, including our state health care plans, to provide parity for mental health and substance use disorders so that they are treated and covered to the same degree as physical care, as well as extend this coverage to a spouse and dependents covered under the same health plan.
This legislation is the hard work of bi-partisan efforts to address mental health in our state. Thank you to my colleague and SHEro Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver for co-leading this effort in the House along with Rep. Todd Jones.
Some highlights of this bill:
· Student loan forgiveness for Georgia mental health/medical professionals who work in pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, mental health and substance abuse care. The loan forgiveness would be conditional on the student agreeing to practice in an approved area of need in our state.
· Establishment of a network of local co-response teams, comprised of behavioral health professionals and peace officers, to promote pre-arrest diversion. These teams would respond to emergency calls and connect those that come into contact with law enforcement with community-based treatment services.
· Creation of a task force specifically designed to help communities coordinate activities that would keep patients with severe mental illness out of jails and detention facilities. DBHDD (Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities) would oversee a statewide technical assistance center to share information across counties and distribute grant funding to help local authorities implement these deterrent initiatives.
· Authorization of a grant program to fund accountability courts.
· Allow the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination (OHSC) to partner with our state’s correctional and juvenile justice agencies to evaluate mental health wraparound services for the state reentry plan, as well as partner with the Department of Community Supervision to share mental health data between agencies to facilitate tracking and treating people under community supervision who receive community-based mental health services.
· Creation of a task force to examine a postpartum Medicaid coverage extension, Medicaid billing codes for behavioral health services for young children, mental and behavioral health care support for children and vulnerable populations, as well as community behavioral health service reimbursements. By October 2024, the state would be required to implement a statewide data sharing system between our agencies to protect and better care for Georgia children
Helping Working Families
On Friday, the House debated House Bill 1409, which increases the maximum payments for workers compensation benefits by $50. The bill also increases the death compensation payable to a surviving spouse by $20,000.
Although I voted yes on this bill, I am disheartened that the maximum is so low compared to other states. Georgia ranks 46th in workers compensation rates and is one of only two states that don’t automatically adjust workers compensation rates based on average wages for the state. Georgians deserve better than to have to beg for fair compensation when they are injured on the job. Click below to watch my speech on this legislation.
HB 1358 removes the current license requirement for Georgians to carry a concealed weapon. Currently Georgians must apply for a conceal carry permit and meet the following requirements:
(1) At least 21 years old or 18 years old if in the military
(2) Georgia resident
(3) No felony requirements
(4) No drug convictions
(5) Not have been in a mental hospital or drug/alcohol treatment center within the last 5 years
(6) Not have been committed to a mental hospital against your will
HB 1358 removes all these requirements, which are in place for the safety of all of us.
Proponents of the bill claim that only law abiding citizens apply for permits so what’s the point of the permitting process. They are wrong. Though counties are not required to report details on denials of permits, in 2020 we know that over 5000 permit applications were denied, mostly for criminal convictions. These denials likely saved untold numbers of lives. HB 1358 erases this safeguard.
While technically a person must be a “lawful weapons carrier” (i.e. without criminal convictions or mental health impairments), there is no mechanism for police to question those carrying a weapon in a concealed manner. This bill is bad policy and makes our state less safe. I voted no.
Other Votes this Week
HB 1319 creates a cancellable loan program for active law enforcement officers (LEOs) to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or relevant social science field as a full- or part-time students in an approved school. These loans can be used toward tuition at any educational unit within the university system of Georgia, a branch of the Technical College System of Georgia, or a private independent non-profit postsecondary institution eligible for Hope scholarships. The student must meet certain residency requirements The educational loan is for a maximum of four years, $2000 per year. I voted yes.
HB 1043 creates the Georgia Endowment for Teaching Professionals for the purpose of receiving and distributing grant funds to support teaching programs for in demand courses of study. The program would be governed by an 11-member board of trustees to be appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate. The board appoints an advisory committee of up to 30 members from across the state. The endowment will be funded by both private and public sources. I voted yes.
HB 1295 removes the “needs development” rating from the list of ratings that can prevent an educator from being unable to have their teaching or education certificate renewed. The rating is also removed from the formula for which salary increases are based. We will be better off by providing resources to help our educators improve when they need it, rather than punish them. I voted yes.
HB 1304, the “Georgia Caregivers Act,” provides that upon inpatient admission, each patient shall have the opportunity to identify a “lay caregiver,” as defined in the Act, to be involved in the discharge process. The bill further provides that if a patient has identified a lay caregiver, a hospital shall notify the caregiver of the patient’s discharge and shall actively engage the patient and caregiver in developing a discharge plan.
The bill also establishes that this Act shall not interfere with patient rights under the Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care Act, nor shall it supersede a healthcare provider’s instructions. I voted yes.
HB 689 allows persons who are victims of human trafficking to have certain criminal history records sealed. This bill helps ensure we are punishing criminals, not victims of sex trafficking. I voted yes.
HB 895 adds additional employees of law enforcement agencies to those allowed to protect their home address, date of birth, and personal telephone number from discovery when testifying as a witness in either a felony or a misdemeanor case. Prosecutors already do not have to provide this information. Instead, prosecutors may provide their work location and telephone number. Now other law enforcements employees can do the same. I voted yes.
HB 1391 sets the salary for public defenders to be equal to that of a district attorney. Those accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This bill aims to recognize that the resources available to those prosecuting individuals should not be greater than those defending individuals. There is more work to do in this arena, but this is a good step forward. I voted yes.
HB 1452 extends the window during which a person may file for a dating violence protective order from six months after an incident of a felony or an instance of battery, assault or stalking, to 12 months. I voted yes
HB 849 adds human resource personnel to the list of mandatory reporters when they suspect child abuse. Human Resource Personnel in this particular context are defined as persons employed to perform functions related to hiring and administration of employees in any business with five or more employees, and which employs minors. I voted yes.
HB 884 mandates that the state issue professional licenses to spouses of military members within 30 days of an application meeting the requirements of the underlying statute. The bill specifies that only the minimum documentation is required to ensure the spouse meets the necessary qualifications for the expedited license. This bill works to make our state more friendly to military families to ensure military spouses can continue their careers upon a military assignment in Georgia. I voted yes.
HB 1344 modernizes Georgia code regarding employment discrimination against persons who are married to members of the armed forces. Rather than referring to a husband or wife, the bill now refers simply to “spouse.” I voted yes.
HB 1437 raises the standard deduction for state income tax returns to coincide with the federal level, and it collapses the marginal rates to a single rate of 5.25 percent (down from 5.75 percent). This equates to a single filer deduction equaling $12,000 and married filing jointly at $24,000. It still allows itemization at the federal level, and also includes a dependency deduction of $3000 per dependent. This bill was rushed through without extensive debate, removes an approximate $1 billion from our state budget, and did not include an official “fiscal note” to outline the impact to our state budget or families. For those reasons, I voted no
HR 920 is a bipartisan resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, noting that the State of Georgia has undertaken to divest all investment in Russia, and calling for the United States Congress and the President to continue to take prudent actions to resolve the war. The resolution will be shared with the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors along with members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation. I voted yes.
This week I had a special visitor—and helper—with me at the Gold Dome. My daughter Ashley joined me on Wednesday. She witnessed “how a bill becomes a law” by sitting in on committee meetings and debate on the House floor. She reviewed bills alongside me and experienced how hard it sometimes is to decide how to vote. As restrictions relax as COVID-19 numbers continue to improve, I look forward to welcoming more kids to the Capitol to see how laws are made.
This past year has been an amazing one for sports in our state. We recently welcomed the National College Football Champions Georgia Bulldawgs and World Series Champions Atlanta Braves. Go Dawgs! Go Braves!
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.