Reminder: 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, 6-8pm at the Chamblee Civic Center, 3540 Broad St., Chamblee.
Public Service Announcement: Watch for the US Census

I’m honored to serve on Representative Lucy McBath’s Census Complete Count Leadership Committee. Our charge is to make sure everyone is counted in the year’s Census, especially in hard-to-count areas.

The Census determines everything from how political districts are drawn to how billions of our taxpayer dollars are allocated. Between March 12 – 20th, you will receive a postcard asking you to participate on-line, by phone, or by mail. You can find more information about the 2020 Census here.

Relationship Status: “It’s Complicated”

Being in the Senate often feels like being in a relationship. Sometimes things go really well and it feels like you’re truly accomplishing important things together. Sometimes things are pretty rocky. And sometimes, well…it’s just complicated.

Sometimes We All Agree

Monday could have been called, “The Day Everyone Decided to Agree.” Democrats and Republicans voted together on several bills, the most important of which were aimed at improving the health of people and communities across the state. SB 359 should reduce the number of surprise medical bills people receive. SB 123 raises fees for dumping coal ash in Georgia and is one of several bills circulating this session aimed at addressing safe coal ash storage.

Wednesday, the Capitol halls were teaming with citizens from all over the state. There were more than 500 physical therapists advocating for equitable PT co-pays, Georgia Senior Living Association advocates pushing for assisted living reform, and the Girl Scouts were there learning about government. The sea of red shirts were also there — the Moms Demand Action advocates — pressing for gun safety.

Getting paged to go outside the chamber to meet constituents is my favorite part of the day. People at the capitol often refer to this activity as “working the ropes,” because citizens must stay behind the ropes that protect the Senate chamber doors. I can always tell the nervous look of someone who is at the ropes for the first time and I love putting them at ease, helping to make it a positive experience.

Sometimes We Don’t Agree

Unfortunately, partisanship can and does get in the way of getting things done.

This week I went to the well on Moms Demand Action Day. My Campus Carry repeal bill has yet to be heard in committee. I asked that it and other gun safety legislation be given hearings because democracy is about giving voice to the people, and those Moms and gun safety advocates deserve their chance to be heard, even if the majority party doesn’t agree.

Sometimes We Make Progress

My legislative agenda gained some momentum this week when I got word that three of my bills will be heard in committee next week. I’m particularly grateful to Senator Jack Hill, whom I have known since I served in the House, for allowing me time Monday morning to present SB 339, the Medicaid Public Option bill, to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This is the Committee that’s so busy with the budget! I’m on the schedule at 8am, March 2, in room 341 in the Capitol.

I’ve been promised hearings on my “After School Recess” bill (SB 398), and the “Prorated College Fees” bill (SB 456), but have not yet received specific dates.

I also filed three new bills:

  • The Styrofoam BanSB 434 bans styrofoam takeout cups and containers, as well as single-use plastic bags. I promised this bill to three young constituents who are all very concerned about our environment. The ban is designed to encourage consumers to bring their own bags for free, or pay a small fee for paper bags — just a dime for every $25 of items. Bag fees have been shown to be the most effective way to encourage people to bring their own bags, which is the ultimate goal.
  • Part-time Student Prorated Fees: Last year, I learned that Georgia Gwinnett College students often take eight years to graduate because they attend part-time. Then I realized many part-time students must pay full fees every semester, making their “drive out” degree price much higher than full-time students. So I filed SB 456, which requires the University and Technical College systems of Georgia to prorate fees based on the actual number of credit hours taken. My chamber seatmate happens to be the Chair of the Higher Education Committee and he told me Friday he likes my bill, so it will have a hearing next week.
  • The Permanent Classroom Act (aka “The Trailer Bill”): On Friday, I filed a bill that would better regulate the use of trailers as temporary classrooms in schools. It mandates a variety of safety measures and inspections, requires that a plan is put in place to convert the temporary classrooms into permanent classrooms within 5 years, and puts school funding at risk for those that don’t comply. This bill will be given a number and assigned to a committee on Monday.
Sometimes It’s Just Complicated

On Wednesday, I met with Rudy Bowen, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Board Vice Chair, and Josh Waller, GDOT’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs, and they caught me up on the history of transportation funding since I left the Georgia House. It’s clear that we now just need a full-throated funding source for transit and there are several potential avenues, including dedicating the rideshare tax that was just passed earlier this year, to transit.

But the biggest complicating factor is inter-regional agreement and cooperation. Getting various counties to agree to fund transit has always been the major challenge, but it’s essential to pulling down federal transportation dollars. The formation of the ATL, the new Atlanta Regional Transit Authority, which just formed in 2018 and is designed to encourage better regional transit planning in the metro area, should address this issue.

Overall, it’s a good time to fight for transit funding, and SR 654, the Constitutional amendment bill that I filed to allow the gas tax to be used for transit funding, put people on notice that I’m ready to be part of the solution.

Sometimes It Takes a Little Horsetrading 

Representative Beth Moore and I have been collaborating on a bill to ban the sale or distribution of products that contain asbestos. The bill was inspired by a constituent whose wife died of Mesothelioma, a terrible and deadly form of cancer that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure.

This week I co-signed SB 407, a bill to discourage illegal palmetto berry harvesting, a problem in south Georgia. The author of this bill is the Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Harper. I’m hoping that protecting south Georgia landowners will pay off and Sen. Harper will co-sign my asbestos bill!

What’s Next

I have an incredibly busy schedule this coming week with three bill hearings, committee meetings, some significant bills that will come to the Senate floor and a mid-week town hall. As always, I invite you to come down to the Capitol to experience it all in person.