To boldly go where no one has gone before!
Captain’s Log Stardate 22-03-18.16: Day 31 of our journey into Georgia’s 40-day legislative session. Throughout our mission, the terrain has been treacherous with daily incoming fire from the Republicans. Their goal is to maintain power by keeping their base angry and afraid. Their ultimate victims are the innocents — the teachers, the workers, the less privileged, and those who don’t look or act like them. So we continue to fight the good fight.
Together, we must blaze a path toward an alternate future — one with new leadership for Georgia. With Stacey Abrams as Governor of One Georgia — the first Black female Governor in our state’s history — and Veto Power at her discretion, Republican missiles will be completely neutralized. Public schools will be boldly supported, teachers will be elevated, health care will be readily available to all, and all those oppressed will have a strong voice and equal opportunities. Order will be restored.
“There’s a lot of work to do. Are you ready for that?”
–Stacey Abrams, President of United Earth
*This week’s Star Trek theme is in honor of Stacey Abrams’ cameo as “President of United Earth” on the latest episode of Star Trek Discovery.
“Leave bigotry in your quarters; there’s no room for it on the bridge.”
— Captain Kirk
Our primary mission this past week was Crossover Day, when bills must pass one legislative chamber to make it to the next, before arriving at the Governor’s desk. It was a long and exhausting day — we finished our work and returned to quarters under the light of the stars. Although we took heavy incoming fire, we had some victories too.
“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”
School vouchers. A common theme throughout this session has been unvetted bills based on faulty assumptions that include little to no expert input. Such was the case with SB 601, a bill to divert more than $6,000/student of public school funds into private schools. Georgia does not have enough revenue to support both public and private schools, and the cost to public schools with this bill would be devastating. The Senate Majority Leader and bill sponsor argued that this will help students escape failing public schools. Yet he and his allies had no data about which students take advantage of these vouchers and no mechanism to ensure the vouchers will only serve those most in need. Neither the Georgia School Board Association nor the Georgia School Superintendents Association had the opportunity to testify on this bill in committee.
A direct attack on public schools, this measure was ultimately defeated by an unlikely coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans whose districts have no private schools and where the public schools are among the largest employers.
“When the personality of a human is involved, exact predictions are hazardous.”
— Dr. McCoy
Horse Racing. With the horse race trumpet fanfare playing in the background and jockey helmet on his head as he strode to the well, the Senator from the Chickamauga presented SR 131, a Constitutional Amendment to allow horse racing in Georgia. As Senate Rules Chair, Chairman Mullis, known for his booming voice and big personality, wields a tremendous amount of power. But even with some heavy arm twisting and horse trading, he was no match for allied forces of very Conservative Senators and Democrats staunchly opposed to gambling in Georgia and the required two-thirds vote needed to pass a Constitutional amendment.
Recently Chairman Mullis announced that after 22 years, he will not seek another term in the Senate, telling me he’s “tired of his crazies.” Despite being on the opposite sides of many issues, I’ll miss his magnanimous spirit, boisterous sense of humor, and big heart.
“Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose — and excluding that which is painful.”
Criminalizing Protests and Requiring Cash Bail. The Democratic Caucus was outnumbered on two “law and order” bills that take us backwards on civil rights and criminal justice. Senate Bill 171 imposes harsh sentences on offenses committed at public protests, requires protesters to get permission from cities before holding an event, and makes cities liable for crimes committed at protests if they request restraint from their police force during the protest (aimed at Atlanta).The same author of SB 171, retired police officer Senator Randy Robertson, also sponsored SB 504, a bill to require cash bail for all felonies, including non-violent offenses.
Both bills sparked fierce opposition by Black Senators who pointed out the racism inherent in the bills. But the bill author refused to acknowledge racial discrimination in the justice system, blaming “failures of churches, schools, and homes” for the mass incarceration of Black people.
“Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman… always remains a woman.”
— Captain Kirk
Crossover Day offered a glimpse of what an alternate universe might look like if women ruled the galaxy. Rather than taking aim at vulnerable populations, these bills authored by female legislators provide care and compassion to help others. All passed unanimously or by a very wide margin.
Breast Cancer Screening. Republican Senator Sheila McNeill presented SB 487, a bill that requires insurance companies to cover supplemental breast cancer exams, like MRIs or ultrasounds for women with dense breast tissue or follow up exams required for breast cancer patients, the same way they cover mammograms.
Death Benefits for Families of Officers that Commit Suicide. Senator Kim Jackson authored SB 468, a bill that extends public safety officer death benefits to families of officers that die by suicide within 30 days of their last day of duty.
First Aid Training in Schools. Senator Sonia Halpern sponsored SB 545, a bill to require 9th or 10th graders to receive at least one hour of mandatory CPR, defibrillator, and first aid training in high school.
Home Down Payment Savings Program. SB 491 authored by Senator Gail Davenport would help prospective homeowners meet down payment obligations. It allows banks and credit unions to create and administer down payment savings programs for people who wish to purchase a primary residence.
“You can use logic to justify almost anything. That’s its power. And its flaw.”
― Captain Cathryn Janeway
This week the Senate passed two tax measures to provide families financial relief while gas and other prices remain high due to the pandemic and the Ukrainian invasion.
Tax Refund. HB 1302 provides a one-time income tax refund to taxpayers who filed returns in 2020 and 2021. Single Georgians will receive $250 and joint filers will receive $500 when they file their tax returns this year. I agree with Governor Kemp that the state should return money to taxpayers once our obligations are met. But I could not in good conscience support a $1 billion tax cut while 7,000 Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities languish on a decades-long waiting list to receive Community Support Medicaid waivers.
The Senate also passed HB 304, a bill to temporarily halt Georgia gas tax. This measure will save Georgians 29 cents per gallon through May of this year. It passed unanimously and was signed by the Governor late this week. Gas Tax money funds the Georgia Dept. of Transportation.
Tax Code Revision. Under the guise of “helping hardworking Georgians,” a third tax measure is on the radar and will land in the Senate soon. HB 1437 will completely change Georgia’s tax code to eliminate the state’s six tax brackets in favor of a flat tax and also change deduction rules. Unlike the other two measures, this regressive tax plan will benefit the wealthiest Georgians the most and those that need financial support the least.
“There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle; it’s just a matter of finding it.”
― Jean-Luc Picard
Home & Community Support Waivers. When I first began my quest in the Senate to eliminate the decades-long Disabilities Medicaid waiver waiting list, I was frustrated by the lack of political will to tackle this problem. I’ve now realized that the key is patience and using multiple tools in the arsenal to accomplish my mission. This year I embarked on a diplomatic mission through the appropriations process, meeting with key House subcommittee chairs and members. That paid off as the House added 225 waivers to the Governor’s 100 waivers in the FY 2023 budget. This week I worked the Senate floor to get co-signers on a letter requesting 225 additional waivers from the Senate. I was pleased to get 10 signatures from an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
While my ultimate goal is to eliminate the waiting list completely, we’ve had to take a more careful approach while we address Georgia’s direct service provider shortage. On Crossover Day, the Senate unanimously passed SB 610, a bill I authored to require the Department of Community Health to review Medicaid reimbursement rates for home and community based care for several Medicaid waiver programs — every three years — so that we don’t fall behind in raising rates again. Next Tuesday, I’ll present the bill to the House Human Relations & Aging Committee, where I’m told the Chairman has a strong affinity to this issue.
“The prejudices people feel about each other disappear when they get to know each other.”
— Captain Kirk
With COVID numbers down and restrictions relaxed, I’ve been attending more in-person events. Each time I do, I’m reminded how important personal connections are and how much we missed them during the pandemic.
Community Policing: Late this week, I attended a ceremony at Piedmont Technical College at their Clarkston campus honoring three Dekalb police officers for their work running the DeKalb police department’s Police Athletic League (PAL) which offers sports, mentoring programs, and more to local youth. Only 18 rank-and-file officers across the country receive the prestigious Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing and this was the only ceremony Attorney General Merrick Garland attended in person to present the award.
It was an honor to meet Attorney General Garland, but the police officers were the real heroes. Through PAL, what is too often an adversarial relationship between local police and idle youth is transformed into a positive, nurturing mentorship relationship. The officers coach sports teams, lead cheerleading and dance programs, organize fun activities like “Gaming with a Cop,” and offer career development. Eight of the nine kids in the first PAL class got jobs and the ninth is in dual enrollment at Piedmont Technical College. It would be wonderful to replicate this program throughout the state.
“Change is the essential process of all existence.”
While your elected officials are fighting the dark forces in the legislature, we desperately need reinforcements. With qualifying over, we know who we’ll be facing in the midterm elections. A new Governor and slate of Constitutional officers will be the difference between better funded schools, more accessible healthcare, and a more peaceful existence for Georgians. Find out who is running in your districts, contribute to their campaigns, and get ready to get out the vote!
“Peace and Long Life.”
― Vulcan Blessing