Citizen Power! hosted by Indivisible Marching Buddies of Atlanta

Next Saturday, March 2nd, I will be presenting, along with Stephanie Ali of the ACLU, at “Citizen Power!” hosted by Indivisible Marching Buddies of Atlanta. Join us Saturday, March 2nd, 10:30am – 12:30pm at the Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library, 5234 LaVista Road, Tucker. We will be presenting on how a bill becomes a law, and how you can support and influence legislation. RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/.   

Be Proud of Being Loud

This week a supporter told me he contacted his newly elected Republican representative to discuss voting machines, gerrymandering and Medicaid. Then he resignedly said, “He’s well indoctrinated into the Republican line of thinking and I got really nowhere with him.”

I know these phone calls may seem futile, but they matter. If we don’t make these calls, Republicans stay comfortably in their bubble, and they don’t realize we exist. We must agitate. Don’t forget – many of them know they must listen if they’re going to win their re-election campaigns.

As an example, this week after hundreds of Moms Demand Action advocates showed up to the capitol in their red t-shirts, a friend of mine overheard a couple of Representatives admitting that they knew they were going to have to give a little on gun issues, or they were going to continue losing more districts.

Showing up matters. Being loud works.

Citizens Crowding the Capitol

At the Gold Dome, we often refer to “working the rope-line.” When we say this we are describing the areas outside the chambers where school-aged “pages” serve, waiting to deliver messages to legislators inside the chamber. If the legislator is able, he or she comes out to talk with constituents across the rope that divides the page area from the public area.

I love coming out to the rope line to meet people, and this week I got so many page messages that I had a hard time keeping up with the debate inside the chamber! It was a busy week for citizen groups who came out to influence legislators on their issues.

Redistricting Reform: I joined dozens of Georgians from across the state at an Advocacy Day event organized by the ACLU, Common Cause Georgia, and Fair Districts GA to advocate for SR52, The Democracy Act, sponsored by Sen. Elena Parent. The bill calls for greater transparency, stronger redistricting standards, and an independent bipartisan redistricting commission, modeled after California’s commission. Twenty one states now have some form of non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission. The only way our lawmakers will consider this issue is if you get loud and demand it. In addition to your representatives, call Senator Matt Brass, Chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, (404) 463-1376 to ask for a hearing on SR52 and sign up for Fair Districts GA action alerts to help continue to push for this bill. Finally, this bill needs a state-wide push, so think about who you know across the entire state who would be willing to make a call to their legislators, and reach out to them.

Improving Our Voting Process: So many voters packed the House Elections Subcommittee hearing to oppose HB316, a bill to reform Georgia’s voting processes, that the AJC took notice and reported on it. Melanie Manning and Betsy Shackelford, who both worked hard on my campaign, testified at the hearing. Melanie asked the committee to keep the current ratio of voting machines to voters at 200:1, instead of increasing it to 250:1. She saw first hand how under-resourcing at a polling location led to long lines and frustrated voters leaving without casting their vote. Betsy spoke eloquently to dispel the myths about handmarked paper ballots, what she called the “state of the art” gold standard for secure voting.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell offered an amendment in sub-committee to require that paper ballots be printed and machine read in a human readable format, rather than an unreadable barcode. The amendment was defeated but Rep. Trammell said they picked up one Republican and there was a considerable amount of interest in the amendment. The bill passed out of committee and will likely pass the House this week and make its way to the Senate, where further improvements can be made.

Giving a hug to a student at Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day who was there to honor her friend, Maura Binkley, who was tragically killed in a yoga studio shooting in Florida.

Responsible Gun Ownership: Last year I was one of the many moms, dads, and students advocating for gun reform at the Capitol for Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day. This year, I was thrilled to speak to the group as a newly-elected Senator now able to advance the fight with SB50, my Campus Carry repeal. This day will definitely go down as the highlight of my session.

The thing about Moms Demand Action is that many of their members carry the intense pain of having lost loved ones to gun violence. But they are there turning their pain into power, and I’ve honestly never felt as much collective power as I have at Moms Demand Action Day at the Capitol.

We gave each other many hugs across the Senate rope-line, and those hugs and cheers from so many friends, constituents, and supporters were incredibly uplifting. I brought all of that power and energy with me to my very first appearance later that day on GPB’s “Lawmakers” program. It reminded me that my most important role is to be your voice when you can’t be present at the Capitol.

On the set of GPB’s “Lawmakers” to talk about repealing Campus Carry

Thank you to everyone who has been getting the word out about Senate Bill 50, my bill to repeal Campus Carry. We are flooding social media, keeping phone lines busy, and having personal conversations at the “rope lines” outside the House & Senate chambers. I am hopeful that Sen. John Albers, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, will soon schedule a public hearing for the bill.

Addressing Dyslexia: Every once in a while, there’s a bill that everyone can feel good about. SB48 requires schools to identify and support kids with dyslexia in their early school years and provide more dyslexia information and support to teachers and schools. Led by my predecessor, Senator Fran Millar, this was a well-studied effort and well-written bill with a great deal of citizen input and support. Advocates for the bill were at the Capitol last week for Dyslexia Day to push for its passage. And this week, Senator Millar joined us on the Senate floor to watch it pass unanimously.

With Margie Singleton and Lisa Walls, two friends who created Margie’s Law to inform women with dense breast tissue that they may be at higher risk for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Education: Margie’s Law, HB62, is a bill advancing quickly through the process of becoming law. What’s significant about this bill is not only what it does, but how it came about. Margie Singleton and Lisa Walls, from the Savannah area, came by my office this week to tell me about their bill. Margie and Lisa aren’t professional lobbyists or members of a major advocacy organization. Margie is a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed 6 months after a clean mammogram.  Lisa is a healthcare professional who didn’t know about the risk of dense breast tissue until she heard about Margie. Together, they saw a need and launched their own effort. Margie’s Law requires health facilities that perform mammograms to inform any patient who has dense breast tissue that they need to obtain further screenings.

Healthcare: The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a restricted debate on SB106, the Governor’s Medicaid Waiver bill. Previously, I reported that the Governor proposed spending $1M for experts to study Medicaid Waivers. In the 2018 – 2019 Amended Budget, which has now passed the House and Senate, this amount was increased by $600,000, and brings in a Federal match of another $1M. That’s $2.6M in taxpayer money to study an already well-studied issue. The research shows that full-scale Medicaid expansion works to increase healthcare access, decrease insurance premiums, create jobs, and put people back to work. Call the Governor’s Office at (404) 656-1776 and the Lt. Governor’s office at (404) 656-5030, as well as your own representatives to oppose SB106 and the lucrative “Medicaid Waiver Study Contract.”

Announcements:

A crowd of 40+ joined us for our Coffee Chat with Sally in Dunwoody.

My next Coffee Chat will be in Chamblee at 10 am on Saturday, March 16th. Location TBA.

Save the date for these upcoming joint Town Hall Meetings with House Representatives in Senate District 40:

  • Representative Matthew Wilson and I will host a Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, March 14th at 6:00 pm at Brookhaven City Hall.
  • Representative Mike Wilensky and I will host a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, March 19th at 6:00 pm at Dunwoody City Hall.

We’ll post Facebook events and announce other Town Hall meetings soon.

Georgia’s Health is on my Mind

Come share a cup of coffee in person at my next Coffee Chat with Sally. We’ll be in Dunwoody at the Georgetown Starbucks at 10 am on Saturday, February 23. It’s just a casual conversation about whatever’s on your mind. Bring your friends and neighbors. We’ll also soon be announcing our State Senate 40 Town Hall Meetings coordinated with your State House Representative.

Yellow Card

My yellow values card will guide my decisions during my time in the Senate

With the pace of bills to vote on picking up now, I placed on my chamber desk my Yellow Values Card that I originally wrote when I served in the House of Representatives. Many of you heard me talk about these values during my campaign. And, this week I gave a Values Card to each of my fellow newly-elected Democrats in the House and Senate.

A Impending Healthcare Earthquake

Last week I said, controversy is coming . . . well, it’s here and it’s healthcare.

The healthcare debate revolves around two intertwined issues:

  • Georgia Republicans’ unwillingness to accept Federal Medicaid expansion.
  • The proposed elimination of Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) program,

Both can impact Georgia’s healthcare delivery system for many years to come, and the current trajectory will leave more people without healthcare.

Womens Caucus

Chairing a very crowded and lively Legislative Women’s Caucus meeting on Maternal and Infant Mortality

The Healthcare Crisis: The GOP introduced two bills — SB106 and SB74/HB198. The first, dubbed “The Patients First Act,” is the Governor’s proposal to explore very limited Medicaid expansion options. The second is a plan to eliminate Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) program which protects our hospitals and helps ensure access to care for all Georgians (see this article for good background on the CON debate). The first bill doesn’t go far enough to cover all Georgians that need healthcare while the second eliminates regulations that protect Georgia’s hospitals from going bankrupt and protects patients from predatory practices. Without fully expanding Medicaid, it’s irresponsible to eliminate the CON program when our hospitals are already struggling.

Moms and Babies Reveal Georgia’s Ill-Health: Georgia ranks among the states with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates. Representatives from the Georgia Department of Health spoke to about 75 people at this week’s Legislative Women’s Caucus, a group I co-chair. We learned that many moms die from complications that occur weeks after giving birth, when Medicaid benefits run out. These are not easy issues to tackle, but I am grateful that Georgia has a Maternal Mortality Review Board that looks at every single death to determine trends and recommend solutions.

Environmental, Financial and Community Health

Coal Ash Storage: The House & Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committees held a joint session this week to hear presentations on the issue of coal ash and what’s being done to prevent spills and protect against coal ash storage failures. I was very happy to see Tina Wilkerson, a constituent who has championed clean energy as a leader of Solarize Dunwoody, at the meeting. Coal Ash storage is a huge issue for Georgia. As long time lobbyist Neill Herring says of current storage inadequacies, “It’s like putting poison in a cardboard box and saying the cardboard is safe.”

GSU Students

Great to meet Georgia State students visiting the Capitol who gave my Campus Carry Repeal bill a thumbs up.

College Loan Defaults and Professional Licenses: The Higher Education Committee discussed SB92, a bill that prohibits all state boards that issue professional licenses from refusing, suspending, or revoking the license of anyone who defaults on their student loans. It simply doesn’t make sense to take away someone’s livelihood when they have loans to repay.

Speaking Out on Gun Safety: On the first anniversary of the tragic shooting at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several colleagues and I spoke from the Senate well about the importance of taking action on gun safety. The Public Safety Committee, chaired by Senator John Albers, is considering a school safety bill, but it’s disingenuous to talk about school safety without considering common sense gun laws. Until we pass gun reform, we’ll still have tragedies like Parkland. If gun safety is important to you, call both Senator Albers (404) 463-8055 and Lt. Governor Duncan (404-656-5030) and demand hearings on the gun safety bills.

Building Healthy Relationships with the Board of Regents: At a reception this week, I met the Chancellor and members of the Board of Regents that oversees the University System of Georgia. The governor appoints Board members to serve a voluntary seven year term. The Board has 19 members, five of whom are appointed from the state-at-large, and one from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts. The Board then elects its chancellor to lead the body. Building these relationships is important for my work on Higher Education.

Announcements

Page

Noah Manning was the first of three young Senate pages from my district this week.

Citizen engagement is critical for a healthy democracy. Be loud. Your involvement can influence which bills get hearings and which bills are left untouched. Spread the word. Call and email Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston, and your state representatives. We all need to hear from you, so we can report which issues are important to our constituents. Share your stories. Write letters to the editor in your local papers. Also, all legislative committee meetings are open to the public and if you are able, I encourage you to attend one that may be of interest you.

This coming week will a big opportunity to engage on two other very important issues. Redistricting Reform advocates will be at the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for a bill to create an independent bipartisan redistricting commission. And on Wednesday, hundreds of concerned parents and students with Moms Demand Action GA will be there to advocate for common sense gun safety, including the Campus Carry Repeal. I plan to be with both groups and I hope to see you there.

Let the Real Work Begin

The first ten days of the session have been packed with ritual, rule-setting, and resolutions. So far, only a handful of bills have made it through Committee and onto the House and Senate floor for votes. But that’s all about to change this coming week. The official session schedule has been set, with Crossover Day scheduled for March 7th. Crossover Day is the last day for bills to get a floor vote before “crossing over” to the other chamber. That means it’s crunch time. The last day of session, known as Sine Die, is April 2.

Expect the controversy to begin.

That’s where you can play a critical role. Please do not underestimate the power or your own voice! Now is the time to call, email, and/or send postcards. Honestly, getting as few as ten phone messages or postcards about a single issue can put an issue on a legislator’s radar. Now is the time to Be Loud!

Here’s What We’re Working On

Speaking from well about #RepealCampusCarry

#RepealCampusCarry This week, I experienced two “firsts” when I filed my first Senate bill since returning to the General Assembly, and took my first personal point of privilege to speak from the Senate well (podium) about why we shouldn’t allow guns on college campuses. The bill was assigned to the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Senator John Albers who represents Senate district 56, which primarily covers Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton, and Roswell in north Fulton County. Senator Albers now holds the power to decide whether or not SB50 will get a public hearing and vote.

Here are three important ways you can help advance this bill:

  • Share my well speech to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #RepealCampusCarry. This will help create awareness of the bill and get the issue back into the public debate.
  • Call, email, and/or organize postcard parties to encourage Senator Albers to hold a public hearing and vote on SB50. It is especially important that he hear directly from his constituents. If you are a constituent, please include your address on all correspondence (including phone calls).
  • Attend the Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day on February 20 where the Campus Carry repeal will be one of their top priorities. This will be an opportunity to encourage lawmakers in person to support the repeal. Sen. Harrell will be speaking!

ERA Needs Your Help:  I was so proud to support the bipartisan bill to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA. But that bill is now in jeopardy as my colleagues across the aisle have been lobbied by energized and highly organized vocal opposition groups that believe the ERA will allow women to equate male birth control options like vasectomies to abortions and argue that women should have equal access. This week Senator Matt Brass removed his signature from the bill, stating that he can’t take the risk that passing ERA might result in increased abortions. Senator Renee Unterman, the Republican co-sponsor of the bill, has been working hard behind the scenes to make sure that the Republicans who signed the bill hold strong, arguing that being pro-life doesn’t mean you can’t be pro-ERA. But these lawmakers very much need to hear from constituents that support the ERA. Please reach out to thank Senators Kirkpatrick, Albers, Martin, Beach, Jones, and Hufstetler for their courage in signing the bill. You can also call the Lt. Governor’s office at (404) 656-5030 to state your support of the Senate Resolution 66.

Voting for the DeKalb Ethics Commission

DeKalb Senate Delegation: Under the leadership of chairman Senator Emanuel Jones, the DeKalb Senate Delegation passed two important local bills. The first was to re-establish the DeKalb Ethics Commission, which had been ruled unconstitutional. This new bill fixes that problem and doesn’t require another referendum since it simply revises the law already approved by the voters. Another bill, SB53, addresses an issue that was uncovered when the City of Atlanta annexed a part of DeKalb that had a high tax base, but only a few DeKalb students. DeKalb lost a significant amount of revenue while maintaining the same number of students, which adversely impacts the DeKalb school system. The Senate passed SB53 to prevent this from happening in the future.

College Affordability: In the Higher Education committee meeting, we discussed new ways to make college more affordable, including an income-sharing agreement bill brought forth by Senator Sheikh Rahman. This bill needs more work, but I was pleased Chairman Tippins gave Sen. Rahman, a freshman Democratic Senator, a chance to present his bill. I sit next to Sen. Tippins in the chamber, so I bend his ear a lot about the escalating price of college.

Working to Stay Connected

Despite being in session all five days this week, I still found time to visit with people in the district!

Boy Scout Troop 15

— Thank you to Boy Scout Troop #15 for inviting me to visit (my son earned the rank of Life Scout in this troop). The boys and I had a lively discussion about how a bill becomes a law using mandatory recess, a bill that I worked on when I served in the House, as an example. The bill got enthusiastic support from the Scouts! The next day, I was thrilled to welcome the Girl Scouts visiting the Capitol. I led my daughter’s Girl Scout troop for eight years.

 

Girl Scouts at the Capitol

— At a new legislator’s breakfast hosted by the Georgia Supreme Court, I was honored to meet Presiding Justice David Nahmias, a Dunwoody constituent who does wonderful work on the Committee on Justice for Children to assess and improve the foster care system, adoption laws, and the juvenile justice system. It was also great to reconnect with Justice Michael Boggs, with whom I served in the House of Representatives.

— I participated on a legislative panel at a breakfast hosted by Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies where I was Executive Director before my time in the GA House. We discussed maternal and infant mortality in Georgia, the most critical issue facing mothers and babies today. Medicaid expansion, which would put an insurance card in people’s pockets and save troubled rural hospitals, is one obvious solution.

— The Dekalb Democrats invited Senator Elena Parent and me to their February meeting to update them on my Campus Carry repeal bill, SB50, and her Redistricting Reform bill, SR52, that would establish an independent redistricting commission much like California has that would be responsible for drawing district lines in a highly transparent process instead of allowing lawmakers to draw them to their own advantage behind closed doors. Voting rights and gun safety are two areas where Georgia’s Democrats can lead, so I was happy to have time to focus on these issues.

Coffee Chat in Peachtree Corners

— I held my first in-district Coffee Chat to spend some casual quality time with constituents in Peachtree Corners. We had a very energetic and engaged group who was eager to hear what’s happening at the Capitol and asked lots of great questions. We’ll be hosting a series of these Chats around the district, the next one being at 10 am on February 23rd at the Georgetown Starbucks in Dunwoody. We will soon be announcing other Chats in Chamblee, Brookhaven, and Doraville.

— Sunday evening I’ll spend time with the Dunwoody Homeowners Association to hear more about a Georgia Department of Transportation project at the top end Perimeter that has caused great concern among residents in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.

As always, my ears are open to you. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Senate office.

The Nation’s Eyes are on Atlanta!

With Super Bowl weekend approaching, legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle want to ensure positive press — so rumor has it that the filing of controversial bills has been put off until after Super Bowl weekend. Note: Keep this in mind next week and and be ready to play defense!

Also, the Georgia General Assembly adjourned early this week because legislators can’t afford Super Bowl hotel rates on their $173 per-diem. We were only in session for two days this week since Tuesday was a (non) snow day. Even though we have been working for three weeks, we have only used seven of our 40 legislative days.

For a change, women were the beneficiaries of a positive spotlight!

ERA Supporters

Proud to stand with my colleagues to announce our effort to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA

The Georgia Senate made headlines when we introduced a bill to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA! I was proud to sign the Senate bill this week and stand with my colleagues as we made our press announcement.

Many people are surprised to learn that the ERA is still not a part of our Constitution. While Congress passed the ERA in 1972, 38 states are required to ratify a Constitutional amendment. Should Georgia become that 38th state, there will still be some work needed to lift the 1982 deadline that was imposed by Congress. There is a bill in Congress to eliminate the deadline, or the deadline could be challenged in court. The GA Senate now has enough signatures to pass the ratification bill if it comes to the floor, so it is now up to our House leaders to determine if Georgia will make history.

Cities, Counties, and Cigars

Having nine cities and three counties in my Senate District can be both blessing and a challenge. On the one hand, it gives me a “birds eye view” of what’s happening in all of those cities and counties and an opportunity to identify common themes and challenges and share ideas and best practices among local leaders. But it also means I have many meetings to attend!

This week, I continued to connect with local leaders, focused on countywide business while still supporting big picture issues. Here’s a “snapshot” of what I worked on:

Community Meeting

Gwinnett County Police said it was a first — to have a both a State Representative and a State Senator attend a Crime-Free Multi-Housing community meeting. Thanks to Charles Levinson and the Barrington Hills Apartment Community, Peachtree Corners, for inviting both Rep. Beth Moore and myself!

Visiting with City Officials: During the session, lots of local and state advocacy groups come to visit the Capitol and many times offer a casual breakfast or lunch so that legislators can stop by and say hello in between chamber sessions and committee meetings. This week, I visited with the DeKalb members of the Georgia Municipal Association during lunch, which allowed me to reconnect with mayors, city council members, and city managers that I had previously met, and talk with others that I hadn’t yet met. The box lunch they provided ultimately fed me and my staff member Amy Swygert, and I still took home leftovers and fed my daughter! Thank you, DeKalb Municipal Association!

Taking Care of County Business: Many of Georgia’s larger, urban counties organize into official House and Senate delegations and meet regularly to discuss and pass local legislation. This week, I met with both the DeKalb and Gwinnett caucuses and was honored to be elected Vice Chair of the DeKalb County Senate Caucus.

Being “One of the Boys”: Making progress for women sometimes requires becoming one of the boys because it can be a great way to build bonds with colleagues. This week, I accepted an invitation to join the “Cigar Caucus,” even though I don’t smoke. Fortunately, newly elected Rep. Matthew Wilson attended too, so I was in good company! I remember cigars being a big part of the General Assembly culture from when I served before. House Speaker Tom Murphy, the longest serving House Speaker in United States history, with whom I had the honor to serve, often had an unlit cigar in his mouth (it was not legal to actually smoke in the chamber). At the Cigar Caucus I shared a picture from 1999 of all the female Representatives sharing an unlit cigar with the Speaker for his birthday.

New Bills are Starting to Fly

Senator Tonya Anderson, My office suite mate, and I congratulate newly-elected Democratic Party of Georgia Chair Senator Nikema Williams.

Each week, I will have opportunities to sign several bills on issues big and small. I can’t mention them all in my weekly update, but you can always find legislation that I’ve signed here: “Member Legislation: Sally Harrell“.

Medicaid Expansion: Healthcare is still the most critical issue facing Georgians. Ben Watson, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, wrote an article proposing a Medicaid “waiver” program similar to Indiana’s program. I was born and raised in Indiana, so I took a look at what they are up to. What I found were some unique program components that set up access obstacles that have resulted in decreased utilization. That’s why I went ahead and signed SB 36, a Democratic bill to fully expand Medicaid, which is the only way to put an insurance card in the pocket of 500,000 Georgians and keep our rural hospitals open.

Redistricting Reform: I signed SR 52, a Constitutional amendment to reform the way we draw Congressional and legislative district lines in Georgia by creating a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission like ones already in place in about a dozen other states. These Commissions remove the impossible ethical dilemma lawmakers face in drawing their own district lines. Preserving voters’ rights to choose their own elected officials instead of the other way around is critical to preserving democracy. In November, voters in Michigan, Colorado and Missouri overwhelmingly passed ballot initiatives to create independent redistricting commissions. States with independent redistricting commissions have been shown to produce much more competitive elections.

Moms Matter: During my time in the House, I became a new mom just prior to my second session, and ended up needing to breastfeed my son while on the job. While I’m glad this led to a law to protect women who breastfeed in public, I would have very much welcomed a lactation room that many workplaces now provide. Unfortunately, the Capitol still does not have such a room, so I was happy to co-sign SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Jen Jordan, to finally create an official lactation room at the Capitol for nursing mothers. I remember fighting for two years just to have a diaper changing table installed in the Capitol!

Announcements

Last week, I mentioned the Senate Page Program which is a wonderful way to get your kids involved in state government. You can fill out the application on the Senate Page Program website and then send it to my assistant, Anna Boggs. Her email address is Anna.Boggs@senate.ga.gov. Please note that her this is her correct email address. We had a slight typo in our last update.

Thank you to everyone that volunteered to help us with Local News and Events and Photography! We will be in touch shortly with more specifics.

Recess Doesn’t Mean Break Time

The Appropriations Committee Room, where legislators have been deciding state budgets for over 100 years.

This week the legislature was in recess, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t working! Georgia’s Constitution limits the length of the legislative session to 40 days, which isn’t really long enough, so we take “breaks” to concentrate on committee work. Even though I’ve been working for two weeks, we’ve only used four Legislative Days!

The legislature uses the week of the MLK holiday to present an overview of the Governor’s proposed budget. This week I attended these budget hearings. During my previous service in the House of Representatives, I served on the Appropriations Committee, so I know the huge impact the budget has on the priorities and values of our State.

The budget hearings are an opportunity for Heads of Departments to showcase their accomplishments and briefly outline their priorities. As with any committee, the hard work of moving money around to redefine priorities happens in Committees throughout the session, and this process has only just begun.

Constituents Matter Most

Joining with my House colleagues to provide a legislative update to the Roswell group Needles in a Haystack. Don’t we look more like the haystack now than the needle?

This week I met with constituents around the district. I did a lot of this during the campaign, but now, as a Senator, I represent everyone. It’s important to make sure all voices are heard.

Here’s a “snapshot” of who I have been meeting with and what I took away.

The Waiting List for Disabilities Services: Families are struggling with the Medicaid waiver process to access critical services for their adults and children with developmental disabilities. Advocating for people with disabilities has always been a priority of mine. Georgia is 45th in the nation in funding to support people with disabilities, so there’s a lot of work to be done. I have already visited with numerous parents who have children with disabilities. Medicaid Waivers allow for in-home support, but for decades there have been long waiting lists (now called “Planning Lists”). At the budget hearings, the Department of Community Health acknowledged that applying for services should be easier for families, and listed as one of their priorities “Continuous Process Improvement.” What I am hearing from parents is that applications are extremely cumbersome, so I will work with the Department to help them achieve this goal.

Visiting with constituents who were writing postcards advocating for redistricting reform.

Technical Education in Georgia: Several constituents have asked me to ensure that more Georgians have access to Technical Schools. Did you know that Georgia has 22 Technical Schools, and that 17 high-need diploma programs are free under Hope Grants? This is a step in the right direction, but I’m concerned about the shifting of costs from tuition to “fees” which aren’t covered by the Hope Grant. On a positive note, this week I had the opportunity to sign a letter of support for the construction of an additional technical school in south DeKalb county. I will continue to work on these and other issues through my service on the Senate Higher Education Committee

Dekalb County legislators meeting with the Emory LaVista Parent Council and the Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools

K-12 Education in Georgia: Finally, I spent time with several local school councils. It is clear to me that our schools are suffering from budget cuts – billions of dollars of lost revenue over the last decade. School overcrowding, stagnant teacher and support staff pay, and lost revenue from private school vouchers, tax abatements and annexations are all creating pressures to serve more students with less money. Georgia has failed year after year to update its school funding formula, and until we do that and begin to pay back over a decade of under-funding, we cannot responsibly say we have “fully funded” our public schools.

Celebrating MLK in Lynwood Park, Brookhaven

I began the week honoring MLK Day with members of the historic Lynwood Park community in Brookhaven. Lynwood Park is a historically African-American community that has undergone dramatic changes in recent years due to gentrification and changing demographics in the area. I was so moved by the wonderful memories current and former residents shared and their deep connection to Lynwood despite these changes. It reminded me that economic progress can be a double-edged sword for communities like Lynwood that stand to lose a part of themselves as neighborhoods grow and evolve. Addressing income inequality and supporting policies that promote housing affordability remain a top priority.

Announcements

— As we continue to get my Senate office up and running, we’ve realized how much work it is to cover a district that’s three times larger than the House District I represented. I’ve heard from several supporters that they’d like to help, so this week we identified a couple of new volunteer roles, including helping us keep up with local news and events in your area (more details and sign up here) and serving as a volunteer photographer (details and sign up here). We’d love to have you join the team.

— The Senate page program is a terrific one-day opportunity to help kids, ages 12 to 17, experience our state legislature first-hand. To learn more, visit the Senate page program web page and if interested, follow the instructions for how to apply. Send the application to my assistant, Anna Boggs at Anna.Boggs@senate.ga.gov, and she’ll get it to the Senate page office. They will take it from there.

Next week, we are back in session Monday through Wednesday and then off again for the Super Bowl weekend to help alleviate traffic downtown.

Please stay in touch.

–Sally

This weekend, I was honored to attend several observances of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy, including Georgia’s official annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute.

Let Freedom Ring!
Of the many memories and calls to action shared this weekend, I took particular inspiration from Dr. King’s ability to love people even as they exemplify the ugliest sides of humanity.

Dr. King loved with a bravery and fierceness that made no room for hate. And because he loved, it seems to me, he had hope for all of us to be better and do better for each other.

I think of this now as we see partisan politics driving wedges between us. I think of this now as new generations are learning to peacefully demonstrate for change.

We must be mindful that injustice and inequity have never left our communities. They have been there all along, quietly oppressing people of color, people who are poor, people who are new to our country, and other minorities.

For a while, we perhaps became complacent. We saw change, but we, as a society, did not acknowledge how much work is left to be done.

We must expand Medicaid to enable 500,000 more Georgians to access lifesaving healthcare. We must prevent gerrymandering and reform our voting process to make sure every vote counts. We must reform the criminal justice system to prevent unnecessary use of force and racial bias. We must rebuild our public education system to help all of our children get a better chance at fulfilling their potential.

I am not the first and I won’t be the last person to say that we need Dr. King’s legacy now more than ever to help us achieve these changes. We need his wisdom and his commitment to peace.

Most of all, I believe we need his sense of hope.

–Sally

Welcome to “Sally’s Senate Snapshot,” my regular correspondence to keep Senate District 40 constituents up-to-date on what’s happening at the Gold Dome.

Week 1 was one of ceremony and start-up. We elected Senate leaders like the President Pro-Tem who will fill in for the Lt. Governor when he cannot preside over the Senate, all of the newly elected and re-elected Senators were sworn-in, and we attended the Governor’s State of the State address. We also spent time getting my office up and running. When you call my Senate number (404) 463-2260, you’ll speak to my new administrative assistant, Anna Boggs, who also works for Sen. Tonya Anderson. Anna is a veteran Senate staffer, so she will be as helpful to you as she already has been to me.

Between all the pomp & circumstance, we got right to work. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I was honored to be sworn-in to serve the people of Senate District 40 with my husband Jay and sister Anne at my side. It was a momentous moment of shared expectations and hope.
  • The Senate voted on new rules that govern how we operate. Unfortunately, we were given virtually no time to review the rules before the vote, and my colleagues and I had serious concerns about a rule change that puts a 2-year time limit on filing sexual harassment claims against Senators, and a ban against filing complaints once a Senator becomes a candidate. We also had questions about a new rule that limits free speech in and around the Senate chamber. The Democratic Caucus and one Republican Senator asked for more time to review and discuss the rules, but we lost the vote to the majority who approved the new rules.
  • We received our committee assignments. I will serve on the Higher Ed, Ethics, and Natural Resources committees. With two kids about to enter college, I feel the pain of college affordability along with many of you and I hope to find some solutions through the Higher Ed committee. The Ethics committee will consider bills related to a new voting system for Georgia, one of my top priorities. The Natural Resources Committee will allow me to learn more about our environment and how our natural resources impact Georgia’s economy.  
  • Leadership opportunities did not get doled out equally. Women and people of color are underrepresented on committees that consider the most bills and overrepresented on those that only consider a small number of bills. Republican leaders even reduced the powerful Judiciary Committee that considers bills related to our legal system by two seats to prevent two new highly-experienced and decorated female lawyers from participating. I was proud to watch my female colleagues from both sides of the aisle make very strong statements objecting to Republican leaders overlooking their talent and expertise.
  • Speaking of women, I was elected to co-chair the Women’s Caucus, the only bipartisan, cross-chamber caucus in the General Assembly. There are more women serving in the Georgia General Assembly than ever before thanks to women who volunteered and voted in record numbers. We now have a big responsibility to come together to focus on and address the needs of women. We plan to kick off the caucus later this month.
  • We began drafting my first piece of legislation in the Senate —  to repeal the wildly unpopular Campus Carry bill that Governor Deal signed in 2017. Gun safety is one of my top priorities and I continue to hear from teachers and students that they feel less safe with this law in effect. The Capitol is a gun-free environment. Our students and teachers deserve the same sense of security as our lawmakers.
  • I signed on to several bills including SR 18 requiring the Secretary of State to be replaced if he/she qualifies to run for another political office, to prevent the very unethical practice of a Secretary of State overseeing his/her own election. I also signed SB 27 to allow TSA workers to draw unemployment benefits during the federal government shutdown to keep our airports running smoothly and safely during this very difficult and disruptive time for our federal workers and our country.

We are not in session next week so that we can attend hearings for Governor Kemp’s proposed budget — I’ll update you on that next week. The Governor did highlight certain budget priorities in his State of the State address which I support, such as raises for teachers and state employees, school safety grants, and extra funds for high school mental health counselors. His commitment to Medicaid expansion, however, was lacking details, so I will be paying close attention to the Senate Health Sub-Committee of Appropriations next week.

Our official legislative session will begin again on Monday, January 28th.

The best way I can represent you is to hear from you. Please feel free to contact or come by my office any time. My Senate web page is still under construction, but you can find my email address and office location there. My Senate office phone number is (404) 463-2260.

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Governor Kemp’s proposed budget. Over the next few days, I’ll study it in more detail. And next week I’ll attend budget hearings to hear State Department Heads testify on behalf of their budget priorities.

My initial reaction is mixed. Thursday, in a joint session of the House & Senate, the Governor gave his “State of the State” speech. He proposed a $3,000 pay increase for teachers and a 2% raise for state employees — which is great, but I didn’t hear anything about updating our 30-year-old funding formula for public schools. Additionally, the Governor proposed $150 million for new voting machines, which would allow Georgia to purchase the most expensive, state-of-the-art voting machines. But it seems our leadership favors a barcode receipt that can’t be read by voters. Hand marked ballots read by scanners can be procured for only $30 million, providing an audit trail for a “real” recount. I support a system that gives voters full confidence. We owe that to Georgia voters, especially after this last election.

I’m also relieved to see $8.4 million proposed for mental health services for our high schools, but we must do more for healthcare overall. Medicaid expansion would provide healthcare to 500,000 more Georgians, primarily funded with Federal dollars that Georgia taxpayers have already sent to Washington.

Finally, school safety is a major concern for everyone. The Governor recognizes this and proposed $30,000 in grant money for each Georgia school to use for school security updates. But our kids and their teachers won’t truly be safe until we address gun reform wholistically, which so many of you told me is a top priority. My Democratic colleagues and I plan to introduce legislation for gun reform, voter rights and Medicaid expansion this session, as well as many other bills aimed at improving the lives of Georgians.

–Sally

Yesterday the Lieutenant Governor and the majority party leaders released the list of Senate committee assignments. Today, the women of the Senate responded.

When asked about why there was so little gender diversity in the committee leadership, Lt. Gov. Duncan claims that they actually have increased the number of women chairs from 2 to 4.

It’s important to note though that there are 27 committees, so even with this doubling of women chairs, we are still only 15% of the total leadership, and three of those four committees see very few bills. These are essentially “fake” committees where they pack Democrats, women, and people of color, to dilute their influence by not letting them do any legislative work. For example, “Special Judiciary”, chaired by a woman, handled just six bills in the last two years, while “Judiciary” handled 135 during that time. Women also chair “Science and Technology” and “Interstate Cooperation”, which handled just seven and three bills each.

Thousands of Georgians voted this past election to bring more diverse and progressive candidates to the State Senate. We are disenfranchising millions of voters when we prevent their legislators from playing a role in how bills that impact their communities are heard.

And that’s something I want to change. I will be serving on the Higher Education, Ethics, and Natural Resources Committees. I promise to do what I can wherever I can to support greater diversity in my committee work, and to look for opportunities to allow others to leverage my roles to stop suppression of progressive voices.

–Sally

Did you hear what happened in the Georgia Senate today?

One of the first things the new State Senate does is vote on the rules of procedure we must follow. Sometimes there are changes or additions. But whatever we change becomes a critical part of how we do the business of the people.

This year, Republican leadership suggested amendments to our rules and procedures, but didn’t give the minority party enough time to actually read them.

As our friends and family watched from the floor and the galleries, a historic day turned contentious.

The Republican majority leader wanted these rules changes to be “engrossed” – that is, to be voted on without the opportunity for modification during debate. The President Pro-Tem of the Senate issued a 5-minute recess during which time State Senators on both sides of the aisle had to scramble to read over a dozen pages of legal text as fast as possible and find any possible problems.

As Minority Leader Steve Henson said, “This isn’t the kind of thing you read and consider in the amount of time it takes to get a Diet Coke.”

One Republican State Senator called the lack of information “unprecedented.” Legislators requested at least the night to review them and vote on them the next day.

But the vote was held. The new rules were adopted 33 to 22 – along party lines.

What was in those changes? Why was this standard procedure no longer so “standard?” Some of the new rules provided more leeway for leadership to call the Capitol police if they felt someone peaceably objecting was too much of a distraction.

Another rule forces sexual harassment and other ethics complaints against Senators to be filed within two years (there had previously been no statute of limitations on such complaints).

Another changed the way committee assignments are made, and another changed “crossover day”. Some changes were small, some were big. None of them were seen by the Democratic senators before this morning.

This is just day one.

We must be vigilant. We must stand together. We must show our leaders that we are not going to stand silent while they abuse their power.

Tomorrow, we continue the fight to live up to our state motto: “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.”

–Sally