A Chilly Political Forecast
I can’t believe it’s already October! For me, the chill in the air reminds me that Georgia’s politics are going to get a bit chilly during the next few months. I expect the November Special Redistricting Session to feature a storm of political gerrymandering, followed by a 2022 Legislative Session sure to showcase severe infighting and political extremism. Brrrr!
Neither Snow nor Rain . . . Your Senator Delivers!
No matter the political climate, nothing stops me from serving the people of Georgia! This coming Wednesday at 7pm, I am hosting a Virtual Town Hall on Public Safety that will feature a panel discussion with city leaders from all over Senate 40. In addition, even though it is the “off” season for the Georgia General Assembly, Legislative Study Committees have been meeting to make recommendations for action during the 2022 session. Finally, I continue to monitor public health issues related to COVID and conditions at the Georgia Department of Labor.
Special Note about my Next Campaign: Once the Special Session starts in November I will be unable to raise money for my next campaign (Georgia law prohibits accepting campaign donations during session). Qualification for the 2022 election is coming up in a few months! So, if you would like to send a contribution for my re-election, now is the time to do it. Off-year contributions are an important part of ensuring I am prepared for my next race, which comes every other year.
Public Safety Virtual Town Hall: During the past two decades, police services in the northern Atlanta suburbs have changed in structure due to the chartering of new cities. Some areas that were once served by DeKalb County now have their own city police departments. According to this report published by the Carl Vinson Institute, “Review of the Impact of Potential Municipal Expansion on County and Municipal Service Provision,” further loss of tax revenue due to the creation and expansion of new city police departments will have adverse impacts on DeKalb County as a whole. We don’t live in isolation and cities don’t have fences, so the health of the county at-large should be the concern of everyone who lives in DeKalb county. As part of a panel discussion featuring police chiefs and leaders from Doraville, Dunwoody, Peachtree Corners, Brookhaven and unincorporated DeKalb County, we will look at how our police departments are structured, challenges they face, reforms they are making, and the benefits of sharing resources. Register at https://bit.ly/Publicsafety
Legislative Study Committees: Georgia’s fast moving 40-day legislative session typically does not allow for enough time to really delve into issues thoroughly, therefore much of that work is done between sessions. Legislative Study Committees are created through official resolutions that must go through the process just like bills, except that they can be passed by a single chamber. During the summer, the Lt. Governor appoints Senators to the various Study Committees, and the Committees typically complete their work during the fall.
University Fees Study Committee: Education was one of the top areas that motivated me to run for the State Senate, so I feel fortunate to have been appointed to two Study Committees that focus on education. Last session, I passed Senate Resolution 300, which created the University Fees Study Committee. “Fees” now make up an average of 25% of the cost of tuition at state colleges and universities, but they are not covered by the HOPE scholarship. In addition, part-time students are usually charged 100% of the fees each semester, making the total cost of their degrees thousands of dollars more than full-time students. I created the Study Committee to look at more equitable solutions, and to bring some accountability to the Board of Regents (the governing board for Higher Education in Georgia).
Outdoor Education Study Committee: I was also appointed by the Lt. Governor to the Outdoor Education Study Committee, chaired by Gwinnett State Senator Sheikh Rahman. I’ve been a long-time advocate for ensuring all children get daily recess, because I want children to enjoy learning. Currently, our children spend way too much time sitting at their desks. This Committee is looking to support ways the Georgia Teaching Standards can be taken outside — for example instead of watching a video about watersheds, children can go outside to create their own watershed in the dirt!
Unemployment Offices are Still Closed to the Public: I continue to get emails and calls from constituents who are owed back-pay for unemployment benefits who cannot get the department to answer their calls or emails. I reach out on their behalf and often never hear anything back either. Although Gov. Kemp has declared the state is open for business, the Department of Labor still refuses to open up to the public. In the Senate, this is angering both Democrats and Republicans, so I drafted a letter to Commissioner Mark Butler asking him what his plans are for opening, and almost every Senator signed the letter with me! Several recent newspaper articles have exposed mismanagement at the Dept. of Labor, including this article about our Senate letter!
Redistricting: Speaker David Ralston said months ago we would deal with redistricting “when the frost hits the pumpkin.” He was about right, as the Governor has called a Special Session to begin the day after Election Day, November 3rd. Hopefully we will be done by Thanksgiving. Hearings have been held and the public has done a great job advocating for fair, non-politically gerrymandered districts in which voters choose their representatives, rather than the other way around. If you would like to follow redistricting issues more closely, I recommend subscribing to Fair Districts Georgia at https://www.fairdistrictsga.org.
Look Ahead to Spring
So batten down the hatches for now, take shelter, and wait out the winds. When spring arrives, we’ll put our teams together again to hit the pavement for the 2022 elections. Sure, we’ll have some debris to clear, but our message to the people of Georgia is strong. We’ll rebuild using a platform of access to healthcare for all, quality public education from cradle to career wherever you live, protection of our earth’s resources, criminal justice reform, and America’s promise of equality. Hope springs eternal.