A Public Service Message: Verify your Voting Information!

February 24th is the registration deadline if you want to vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary election on March 24th. Even if you are registered, be sure to verify that your voting status is “Active” and your information is correct. Three legislators learned last week that despite being regular voters, their information was wrong, which could have caused them problems at the polls. Check your record here https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do.

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings:

I’m pleased to be co-hosting several town hall meetings with House Representatives in various parts of Senate District 40 so that we can update you on the legislative session, answer your questions, and hear your thoughts.

  • Dunwoody/Sandy Springs with Representatives Mike Wilensky and Josh McLaurin: March 4th, 7-9 pm at the Dunwoody Annex, 4470 N. Shallowford Rd., Dunwoody
  • Peachtree Corners with Representative Beth Moore: March 18th, 6-8 pm at the Peachtree Corners Community Chest Annex, 310 Technology Parkway
  • Chamblee/Brookhaven with Representatives Matthew Wilson and Scott Holcomb: March 26th, time and location TBD. We will update you in a future Snapshot.
When it Rains, it Pours

The Senate reconvened this week after the break that wasn’t really a break. Ironically, my week started by being an hour late to a meeting with the Georgia Department of Transportation (aka GDOT) because of bad traffic and rain. The rain continued falling, but it didn’t keep me from charging forward through the storms of the week.

The Battle of the Bios

Checks and balances, or the lack thereof, have continued to be a theme this week. After refusing to provide Speaker Ralston budget information the House needs to do its job, this week the Governor’s office initially refused to give me information that I need so I know how to vote on Senate confirmation of board appointees. Last week I made a written request for bios for all board appointees. On Monday morning my administrative assistant, Keridan, got a call from the Governor’s office. They said if I want the bios, I must file an open records request.

The Governor appoints people to boards all year long, swears them in, and they begin their service, all before the Senate has a chance to confirm them. This makes me feel like a rubber stamp, so I decided I needed to take a closer look before the vote. Why would a Senator have to file an open records request for information to do his or her job?

I finally got the information from the Governor, but it took a social media post going viral, an inquiry by the AJC, and the remainder of the week.

Budget Battles Slow Down the Bills

On Wednesday, the House voted out the bill that makes adjustments to the current year budget, also known as the amended, or “little” budget. The House restored funding for several important state services like public defenders and programs that encourage doctors to practice in rural Georgia. Now it’s time for the Senate to take a look at the amended budget and for the House to start working on the “big” budget for FY2021.

Speaker Ralston has expressed continued support for another tax cut saying that “people expect Republicans to cut taxes.” This statement really distresses me. We’re making drastic cuts to our state budget during good economic times due to an income tax cut made in 2018.

But what really bothers me are the 7000 developmentally disabled Georgians who have been on a waiting list — some for 10 – 15 years, because the state continually underfunds Medicaid Waivers that allow these people to live in their communities rather than a nursing home. This year the state has funded zero slots. This is not the kind of budget I can support.

What Does the Senate Do on a Day with No Bills?

The budget battles have significantly slowed the number of bills coming to the Senate floor for a vote, and on Wednesday, we had zero bills. So just what do we do when we don’t pass bills? There’s plenty of ceremony.

Lt. Governor Duncan starts every morning promptly at 10am. The first sound of the morning is the voice of Rules Chairman Mullis, who boisterously declares that the journal has been read and approved. And for the ghosts in the chamber, he declares a bit of trivia, such as, “On this day in 1884, the Enigma Tornado Outbreak roared through Cartersville, GA, killing 22 people . . .”

Roll Call: Even the roll call is ceremonial. If a member is absent, another member must make a motion on their behalf to excuse, using specific language: “Mr. President, I ask for unanimous consent to excuse the Senator from the 39th for business inside the Capitol.” After all the motions to excuse are made and approved, we vote electronically to signify our presence.

Pledge: Then we recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag, turning afterwards to recite a separate pledge to the Georgia flag (did you even know there’s a Georgia pledge)?

Pastor of the Day: Then comes the Pastor of the Day. A Senator introduces his or her pastor, who offers some words and a prayer, almost always “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes, we pray in the Capitol, and not once, but also before every committee meeting. I’ve never been asked to offer the prayer, but one day I would like to step up and share a completely inclusive reflection.

Doctor of the Day: After the Pastor of the Day comes the introduction of the Doctor of the Day, which used to be a Senator’s personal doctor, but now seems to be a doctor chosen by the Medical Association of Georgia — a way to lobby inside the chamber.

Privileged Resolutions: While this is all happening, the side aisles of the chamber fill with people waiting to be honored by their Senator. Privileged Resolutions recognize constituents for their accomplishments or contributions to the state, or they commemorate important causes. These resolutions are filed and assigned a number just like other bills. This particular bill-less day we recognized Alphi Phi Alpha, an African American service fraternity, several Georgia Forestry units, L’Arche, a non-profit for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Lupus Awareness Day.

Point of Personal Privilege: The favorite part of the day for Senators who like to be in the spotlight are Points of Personal Privilege. Every Senator gets five minutes in the well each day to say whatever they want. Some members use it to recognize special guests. Others use it to mark a special occasion or speak to an important issue. Members of the minority party often use it to make a case for legislation they’ve filed, since there’s less chance of that legislation being heard on the floor.

Floor Votes: After all this, if there are any bills, they are finally heard and debated on the floor.

While some of this pomp may seem unnecessary, it’s important to our special guests who come from across the state, and Senators often use this time to network with colleagues, discuss bills, or go to the rope lines to meet constituents.

Nevertheless, There Were Some Bills

We did discuss and vote on a handful of bills this week. Here are the highlights:

The Liars Bill: In the Ethics Committee, we discussed SR 459, a resolution that would ban anyone who was found to be lying during Public Hearings from testifying the rest of the session. Unlike Congress, people who speak in front of a state Senate committee do not have to swear an oath to tell the truth, and there are no penalties for those who deliberately provide false information. That means that Senate members have to listen with discerning ears to determine which information is credible or not. While there was general support for the intent of this bill, it needed more work to make it viable.

The 90% Admissions Bill: It’s not often that two major university Presidents come to a Senate Higher Education meeting, but University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera, as well as Board of Regents Chancellor Steve Wrigley all came to testify against SB 282, a bill that would require Georgia research universities like Georgia State, University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech to offer 90% of early admission spots to in-state students. President Morehead called the bill “unnecessary” since Georgia students make up the majority of the UGA student body. President Cabrera discussed how the bill would hurt Georgia Tech’s ability to compete with other major universities. Both spoke to the devastating financial effects of the bill. After such compelling testimony, this bill is unlikely to move out of committee.

The Foster Care Bill: Strengthening the foster care system in Georgia is one of the Governor’s priorities and SB 335 addresses a variety of deficiencies in our system. It increases data collection about foster kids in care, allows the state to contract with child placement services to alleviate the backlog, it eases training requirements for people providing respite care — people who can temporarily step in for foster parents to give them a break — and it waives state park entrance fees for foster families. The bill passed nearly unanimously on the Senate floor.

Looking Ahead

Your government is open to you and I encourage you to come to the Capitol to watch a Senate session live from the gallery. We’ll be back in the chamber on Monday and in session all week.