Dekalb House & Senate Voting Rights Forum: Join members of the Dekalb House and Senate Delegations on Tuesday, February 23 at 6:30 pm to learn more about the voting legislation that’s pending in the Georgia General Assembly. Register for the Zoom meeting here or watch the livestream from the Dekalb House/Senate Delegation Facebook page here.

Legislative Town Hall: Thank you to everyone who joined our Senate District 40 Legislative Town Hall event. I’m especially grateful to my House colleagues, Representatives Mike Wilensky, Matt Wilson, Scott Holcomb, Josh McLaurin, and Beth Moore, for serving as panelists.

If you missed it, you can watch the livestream replay here We plan to do another one later in the session.

Pandemic Progress

Mass Vaccination Sites: Governor Kemp announced this week that Georgia will soon start receiving 200,000 vaccine doses per week (a 25% increase) and open four new mass vaccination sites on Monday, Feb 22, in Albany, Macon, Clarkesville, and Atlanta/Hapeville. This expansion means we’ll be able get to the next phase more quickly, maybe even within a couple of weeks.

Centralized Appointment System: The centralized vaccination scheduling system is now available, but it’s limited to the four new vaccination sites for now. If you are Phase1A+ eligible, you can sign up at or by calling 844-275-5425. If you’re not in Phase 1A, you can also sign up to be notified as Georgia moves into different phases.

Under Cover of Darkness: Voting Bills

Wednesday morning, well before the sun came up, I made my way downtown through heavy rain, flood warnings, and temperatures barely north of freezing. Two Senate Ethics Sub-committee meetings had been scheduled simultaneously at the unusually early hour of 7am — both dealing with very controversial voting bills.

No Live-streaming: When I entered the committee room, I realized there would be no live-streaming of the meeting, and social distancing requirements meant there were very few people in the room, so there would be very limited public comment. In normal times, controversial hearings like these would be overflowing with advocacy organizations and concerned citizens. But Republicans shut Georgians out of the process.

Without the live-streams, committee members  were also in the dark about what happened in the other  subcommittee meeting we couldn’t attend, which put us at a disadvantage when we came back together the next day (again at 7am) as a full committee to vote on the bills.

Curtailing Absentee VotingThe first bill my sub-committee took up was Senate Bill 71, authored by the most powerful man in the Senate — the Chairman of the Rules Committee. SB 71 repeals Georgia’s no-excuse voting law — the very law this Chairman supported in 2005 when Republicans decided it was in their favor to allow as many people to vote-by-mail as possible.

Now the Chairman was standing before us proposing that only the disabled, people 75 and older, and those needing to be out of town, should be able to vote by mail or dropbox. Why? The Chairman’s explanation was because his constituents had lost faith in the election process due to excessive fraud. He went on to cite data and stories that have already been discredited by the Secretary of State’s Office. I had to speak up.

So I raised my hand to be acknowledged and proceeded to state that his constituents lost faith in the election process because they were lied to by the President, and that this situation cannot be fixed by legislation, but rather requires leadership.

That night when I got home, exhausted, my husband handed me a postcard that came in the mail that day from the Harry Truman Presidential Museum. It said:

“I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” 
— President Harry Truman

It’s painful to have to spend so much time on something that isn’t broken when we could be focusing on what the people of Georgia need right now —  healthcare, unemployment insurance, and education.

Bills that passed the Full Ethics Committee:

The Chairman’s SB 71, repeal of no-excuse absentee voting, did not move on for a vote in the full Ethics Committee the next day. I do believe that with enough advocacy, we can kill this bill and others that propose to limit absentee voting. But other bills did pass and next will move to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Photo ID for Absentee Voting: SB 67 requires a driver’s license or government-issued ID to request an absentee ballot. There are some good things in this bill like codifying the online absentee ballot application portal that was developed under emergency rule last year. And it could be worse. Other bills have required multiple photocopies of photo ID, which would be a huge impediment to many voters, while this bill only requires ID numbers. But it doesn’t provide enough options for first time voters and those who may not have a photo ID. This bill passed along party lines.

State Takeover of Local Elections: SB 89 allows the State Elections Board to remove and replace “low performing” county elections superintendents. I’m very concerned about this becoming a partisan power grab. The State Elections board is currently comprised of the Secretary of State, an appointee from the House, one from the Senate, and one by each party, which means our State Elections Board currently has four Republicans and only one Democrat. This unfortunately passed along party lines.

Faster Reporting: SB 184 and SB 188 require faster reporting for county elections officials. SB 184 reduces the time counties have to report that a voter has voted from 60 to 30 days and imposes a $100 per day fine for counties that are late. SB 188 would create a statewide election reporting system to track the number of votes cast and how many are in-person, absentee, and provisional. Counties would enter this information as soon as possible after the polls close. I voted against these bills because I didn’t have a chance to check with my local elections offices, and the author indicated he had not reached out to any election offices to ensure this timeline is reasonable.

Tabulating Ballots Before Election Day: SB 40 was the only Democratic bill we heard, even though there are many that have been filed. It again codifies an Emergency Rule, allowing county election clerks to begin tabulating absentee ballots the second Monday prior to an election to speed up election results. This bill was the only one that passed unanimously.

“Be Loud” in the House

Late last week, the Chair of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity rolled out HB 531, a 48-page omnibus bill that contains a number of restrictive voting measures like banning Sunday voting, which is a direct attack on black “Souls to the Polls” events, restricting early voting to only one Saturday, limiting ballot drop box access to business hours only, and shortening the absentee ballot request period among other things.

This bill will negatively impact low-wage voters and voters of color the most. It’s time to be loud in the House. Call or email the members of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity and tell them to vote No on this bill

We’ve heard rumors for weeks that Senate Republicans plan to roll out a similar omnibus bill, but so far, nothing has been filed.

Shining a Light on Developmental Disabilities

When I was elected to the Senate, I was heartbroken to hear that there are more than 7,000 families on a waiting list to receive NOW/COMP Medicaid waivers, which help offset the cost of care for adults with developmental disabilities. This was an issue I first learned about when I served in the House and I was so disappointed to hear that the problem persists today. Many of these families have been on this waiting list for a decade or more and many don’t know the waiting list exists until it’s too late. Most adults with developmental disabilities require full-time care which makes it impossible for their caretakers to work without help. And the cost of care is so high, it’s like having to pay for college for an adult’s entire life.

So this week, I filed SB 208 to gradually increase funding for the NOW/COMP waivers so that we can eliminate the waiting list over the course of 5 years. Political will is the only thing stopping us from fully funding this program. We could have funded this program with the tax cuts Republicans gave away in 2018.

A Bright Spot for Criminal Justice: Repealing Citizen’s Arrest 

This week, Governor Kemp announced a measure to reform the state’s Citizen’s Arrest Law, a law that’s been in effect in Georgia since the Civil War that allows average citizens to arrest someone they suspect of committing a crime. The Citizens Arrest Law was initially used to defend those that killed Ahmaud Arbery last summer as they claimed they believed he committed robbery before video evidence showed otherwise. House Bill 479 still allows security officers and retail workers to detain those that are suspected of shoplifting or other crimes and allows off-duty police officers to arrest crime suspects, but provides more specific guidelines under the law for those circumstances.

This bill has bipartisan support. I plan to work with my colleagues and stay in close touch with advocacy organizations to determine how this bill needs to be strengthened.

Looking Ahead

This Monday is the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. We will be in session every day this week as activity ramps up in advance of Cross-Over Day. The week will be long and full of controversy.