Join our SD 40 Legislative Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, March 25th at 7:00 pm so we can answer your questions before Sine Die, the last day of session. Once again, we’ll be joined by several SD 40 House Representatives.
The Georgia General Assembly has its own version of March Madness around this time of the session. With only four more legislative days left, we’re starting to feel the heat. Everyone is tired, but we must keep our guard up, as this is when bills get hijacked and sneaky amendments get added. Last minute surprises are the norm. We have to keep our eyes peeled and be on our game if we want the best outcome for the people of Georgia.
Mourning the Asian Spa Shooting Victims
Our hearts broke midweek as we learned of the horrible spa murders in and around Atlanta. This is a tragic manifestation of the example set by too many of our leaders who have used racist rhetoric to scapegoat, attack, and antagonize Asian Americans. Words have consequences — hate crimes against Asian Americans have doubled in the last year. And it’s yet another example of the continuing epidemic of gun violence. There’s been no movement of gun safety legislation in the legislature this session, despite many bills that were filed. I’m grateful that Congresswoman Lucy McBath continues to push her bill to close background check loopholes at the federal level.
Tragedies like these reaffirm my commitment to continue to listen, learn, and use my position to dismantle the inherent racism in our policies and fight for better gun laws.
Playing Defense on Voting
The hijinks on voting bills have already begun. In the House, SB 202, originally a two-page voting bill, was stripped of its contents and replaced by 94 pages of an amended HB 531, the House omnibus bill. One new provision allows as few as four legislators to petition to wipe out an entire county elections board and replace it with a single election supervisor who would have the authority to fire and replace the county’s elections staff. This is part of a disturbing trend of about a dozen counties filing local legislation to reconstitute their county elections boards, some to gain tighter partisan control.
In the Senate, the Ethics Committee held two hearings on HB 531, the voting omnibus bill from the House that limits weekend voting and absentee ballot drop box access. Some versions of this bill invalidate provisional ballots for out-of-precinct voting. Every Election Day, thousands of voters go to the wrong precinct due to confusion with early voting sites, changes in polling locations, or poll books that have incorrect data. When this happens, voters can either go to their correct polling location or cast a provisional ballot where only their statewide or federal office votes are counted because the voter may not be in the correct district to vote in down ballot races. Chairman Barry Fleming, HB 531’s author, seems to believe that punishing voters’ innocent mistakes is the way to correct the problem rather than recognizing how hard it can be for voters to get from one location to the other during a workday.
Substitutes for both SB 202 and HB 531 continue to be offered and I was back in the Senate Ethics Committee on Monday at 9:15 am to hear the latest HB 531 substitute. Ultimately, both bills must pass the respective chambers and then they will be combined in a conference committee of just six hand-chosen legislators — three Senators and three Representatives. Both the House and Senate will have to pass the combined bill.
Blocking Shots: You’re Making a Difference
I was thrilled to reconnect with my DeKalb Democrat friends (picture below) and all of the activists and voters who came to testify at the Ethics committee hearings this week. The Capitol has been so empty this session. It really lifted my spirits to be able to share my experience at the Capitol with constituents and to see the public as an active part of the process again.
The protests, calls and emails to legislators and the business community have made a big difference. So far, there’s been no further movement on SB 241, the Senate bill to ban no-excuse absentee voting, and we are seeing some positive changes to the weekend early voting provisions. This week, the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce made a strong statement opposing limitations on early voting and drop box access, and onerous voter ID laws.
But it is not over until it’s over. We’ve got to keep our eye on this ball. Please keep up the pressure so that we can keep voting as accessible as possible for everyone.
Honoring our State’s MVPs
Every year, members of the Georgia Women’s Legislative Caucus nominate women from their districts who exemplify excellence in community service, a tradition begun by my former colleague, Representative Nikki T. Randall, who was a strong advocate for women and families. This Tuesday, we held our Yellow Rose Celebration Breakfast which we worked hard to adapt to a virtual format to celebrate our honorees.
Because this was no ordinary year, we chose to honor frontline and healthcare workers who are making a difference during the pandemic. I nominated Alexandra Nicole Faerber, a young nurse from Brookhaven who had been caring for patients at Emory’s Long Term Acute Care Hospital when she contracted the virus and tragically passed away last spring. After sesion, I look forward to delivering Alexandra’s award, as well as a Privileged Resolution passed by the Senate, to Alexandra’s parents, Febby Jo and Craig Faerber.
Strategizing with Campus Workers
I’ve been periodically meeting with members of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, Local 3265. This is a group of undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants who play an integral role in our university system as teachers and researchers. They are paid stipends and receive class credit, but most are underpaid and many live in poverty. The UCWGA advocates for fair wages, benefits, and workplace safety. They’re interested in supporting my Part-time University Fees legislation and had some good ideas for how it could apply to them. This session and last, I filed a resolution urging the Senate to resume cost of living adjustments for University System workers which were abandoned in 1990.
Keeping Score: Bills on the Floor
We haven’t had many bills on the floor since Crossover Day, and most of them have been non-controversial. That will change very soon.
The Slam Dunks:
Medicaid Enrollment with SNAP Applications: HB 163 automatically enrolls eligible children in Medicaid when their family enrolls in SNAP. This speeds up the process for children to get Medicaid benefits.
Trust fund Earmarks: You may remember that last year, Georgians voted on a constitutional amendment that would allow money to be dedicated, or earmarked, to certain issues. HB 511 earmarks a variety of fees like the solid waste fee to the Solid Waste Trust Fund, the tire disposal fee to the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, and the divorce filing fee and probate court fees to the State Children’s Trust Fund. Several other fees are included in the bill.
Expanding the Foster Child Tax Credit: HB 114 increases the child tax credit for children adopted from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years after adoption. This helps incentivize foster parents to give foster children forever homes.
Chamblee City Council District Bill: I filed SB 294 for the city of Chamblee to add a new City Council district to cover property that they annexed in recent years. It now goes to the House to pass before the end of the session.
Increase Standard Deduction: HB 593 increases the standard deduction from $4,600 to $5,400 for single people, from $3,000 to $3,500 for married people filed separately, and from $6,000 to $7,100 for a married couple filing jointly.
The reality is that this tiny tax cut won’t make a difference to most Georgians. But the money it represents could make an enormous difference to 7,000 families with disabled children who have been on the Medicaid Waiver waiting list for decades. Without the Medicaid waiver, these families must pay to care for their disabled children which is as costly as paying for college every year for the rest of their child’s lives. Instead, I favor a more targeted tax cut for lower income Georgians through a state Earned Income Tax Credit, a bill introduced by Senator Elena Parent, which now could bring in matching dollars from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. I spoke against this bill during the vote and urged us instead to pass SB 208, a bill I filed to eliminate the Medicaid waiver waiting list within 5 years.
Looking Ahead: Georgia Scores Big with The American Rescue Plan
This week, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute briefed the Working Families Caucus on the benefits Georgia will receive from the American Rescue Plan from the Biden administration. Despite Governor Kemp’s complaints, the $8.2 billion that the state is set to receive could be a complete game changer for so many Georgians. The money is desperately needed. Governor’s proposed FY 2021/2022 budget maintains $1.2 billion in budget cuts from FY 2020, with the majority of cuts ($675 million) coming from public education. The aid can help fill the void, directly benefit more than 5 million Georgia families through Child Tax and Earned Income Tax Credits, and fund other important priorities like rural broadband and Medicaid expansion.
The question is how Governor Kemp will choose to spend the money once he has it in hand, how transparent will he be, and if the legislature will have any input into how the money is spent. Stay tuned.
In the Senate, speaking from the “well” is an important part of getting the message out for the Minority Party. What is said in the well is frequently watched and reported by the press.
Rep. Kimberly Alexander and I have worked very closely together this session to make sure the work of the Women’s Legislative Caucus could move forward during the pandemic.
Senate members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.
It was so good to see the DeKalb Democrats at this Capitol this week. They marched from the King MARTA Station to the Capitol, then joined the DeKalb House & Senate delegations for a press conference on the south step