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

Sally Harrell’s Senate Campaign Video Highlights Newborn Hearing Screenings
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: press@sallyharrell.org

Chamblee, Ga. (Sept. 22, 2018) – September is Newborn Screening Awareness Month. In recognition, Georgia Senate District 40 Candidate and former State Rep. Sally Harrell has released two videos (https://youtu.be/bmjXyDJwunE and https://youtu.be/c0BbCEV897s) highlighting the importance of newborn hearing screenings and their effect on Georgia families.

Today, we take newborn health screenings for granted, but when Rep. Harrell took office in 1999, only 37 percent of Georgia hospitals were screening newborns for hearing. The former executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies knew that had to change. With backing from pediatricians, she sponsored House Bill 717 to set up standards for statewide screenings.

Speaking from the well for the first time, Rep. Harrell told her colleagues, “Former Gov. Zell Miller grabbed the nation’s attention when he announced that every newborn would receive a classical music CD to stimulate early brain development. Unfortunately, we don’t know which infants can actually hear the music.”

She explained that if hearing loss is not detected before a newborn is discharged from the hospital, diagnosis is often delayed until the child is 2½ years of age. “Because language skills are highly developed by this age,” she said, “the window of opportunity for early intervention is lost. For some children, early diagnosis is the difference between speech and no speech.”

HB 717 passed unanimously and was a great success. Georgia soon reached its goal of screening 95 percent of newborns for hearing. Since then, thousands of Georgia families have benefited.

Carianne Muse, the mother of two children who are deaf, recently reached out to thank Harrell for her efforts and told her how important her legislation had been. Her second daughter, Ella, was born in 2009 with profound hearing loss. Early diagnosis gave her parents options for early intervention. Today, thanks to early treatment, Ella speaks without missing a beat, performs well in school, and plays guitar. “My favorite sound is a bird chirping,” she said.

“(HB717) made a huge impact on my family and many others,” her mother said. “The best thing was having an early diagnosis. Getting the diagnosis, we could get on a fast path to success. We’re incredibly grateful. I don’t think we would be where we are without this legislation.”

Harrell noted the danger if parents don’t take negative test results seriously. Failure to get early treatment can result in loss of both speech and learning ability for a child. “But if you take care of this early, you can have good outcomes,” she said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks,” Harrell said, “I’m ready to go back to the Capitol and get that work done.”

For more information on Sally Harrell’s campaign for Georgia State Senate District 40, visit SallyHarrell.org.

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I’m pleased to share with you that Eric Holder, former attorney general of the United States and chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, has endorsed my candidacy for Georgia State Senate District 40. Here’s what he said:

“I’m proud to support Sally Harrell for Georgia Senate District 40. She will be a champion for fair maps and will help ensure the citizens of Georgia are able to vote in fair elections for the next decade. If we are going to fix the Republican gerrymandering that has plagued our democracy, we need to ensure Democrats have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021. Sally will work on behalf of all Georgians to make sure their voice and their vote counts.”

–Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee
https://democraticredistricting.com/state/georgia/

If elected, I will work to undo years of voter suppression practices installed by Republicans like Fran Millar, not just related to gerrymandering: I will support voting on Sundays, extending voting hours, and make sure we provide enough resources to secure our voting systems.

These efforts are needed now, more than ever, as we have experts telling us our democracy in Georgia is at serious risk.

A federal lawsuit filed earlier this month against Georgia suggests that there are multiple issues with the electoral process in our state, from 16-year-old machines breaking down, to no paper trail, to people being directed to the wrong polling places, to potential voter fraud.

And who is in charge of making sure these issues are addressed — Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for Governor. Kemp and his staff insist there is nothing to be concerned about. In fact, he put off changing the voting systems until 2020, well after the election he hopes to win.

These assaults on our democracy have to end. As we have seen, the Republican Party doesn’t care if Russia is hacking our state and national electoral systems. They don’t care if voters of color are denied their rights to vote. They aren’t concerned whether they actually represent you where you live – they only want to win and to stay in power.

It’s time we took back our democracy.

Georgia State Senate District 40 can be a force for fair elections in our state. We need your support. We need your investment in change, and it starts in the Georgia Senate. Give $100 and help me get to the table when redistricting begins.

Sally

There are only 99 days until the General Election. There is much to do and many voters to reach. We’re committed to listening to all of the citizens in GA State Senate District 40, but this effort needs people power and financial contributions.

We have 200 volunteers already working on our campaign — all of these people have given their time and talent in specific ways to help out. And we’ve met over half of our goal of having 500 donors each contribute $100.

On this day, marking 99 days from the election, how will you contribute?

Will you give $99? Donate what you can – every bit helps us reach more voters!

Or can you sign up on our volunteer page to give some of your time at a meet and greet, helping call voters, or participating at a postcard party?

Winning this district is within reach. We can lessen the power of Georgia’s far right – one district at a time.

Will you join us? Are you ready to find strength in numbers and a shared purpose?

Sally