A week of Fits and Starts

This week the legislature felt like a car engine that wouldn’t quite turn over. Bills were moving at a good little clip, then sputtered to a stop. On Tuesday while debating a couple of bills, a security alarm went off. We started to evacuate, but the Sergeant-at-Arms said it was a false alarm so we got back to work.

Banning Vaccines: SB 1 proposes to permanently ban state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID vaccines, making it so schools can’t require COVID vaccines like they do for other diseases. I tried to appeal to my Republican colleagues by arguing for local control, but the bill passed along party lines.

Mandatory Minimums: SB 36 creates mandatory minimum sentences for pimping and pandering. Mandatory minimums tend to tie judges hands from taking into account unique aspects of each case when sentencing. Also, research indicates mandatory minimums tend to politically target certain offenses and groups of people, and they do little to deter crime. Georgia already has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country. I expect more mandatory minimum bills with the Governor’s “tough on crime” package.

Putting the Brakes on Hate

Even before the week started, I got news that constituents in my district found hateful anti-Semitic fliers in their driveways. Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler and I both received bipartisan applause Monday for our speeches denouncing this anti-Semitic act.

The same morning, we honored World War II veteran Louis Graziano on his 100th birthday. Graziano is the last remaining witness to Germany’s surrender to the Allies at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Reims, France. The presentation made me think of my Uncle Jim, who was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge on his first day of combat. So many sacrifices were made to defeat the Nazis. It takes all of us standing together to fight off the same kind of hate today.

Ambulances Stuck in Neutral

On my way to a lunchtime Dekalb Delegation meeting, I observed several other crowded County Delegation meetings overflowing into the hallways. It struck me how insufficient everything is at the Capitol. We have such a short amount of time to do our work, and not nearly enough staff or space. We do our best to get the work done.

One of the issues we discussed at our DeKalb Delegation meeting is slow ambulance response times. I’ve heard stories of people dying while waiting for an ambulance, or being told they should drive themselves to the hospital — a result of for-profit healthcare. Citizens expect an ambulance to show up when they have an emergency. It’s a basic responsibility of government.

The Road to Passport Renewal

Do you ever wonder why you pay a $35 passport processing fee and where that money goes?

County Clerks are required to charge the fee by Federal law. Fifty years ago, before counties provided municipal services, Clerks did not draw a salary from the county, so the $35 paid them for their time and attention. But now in some counties, the Clerk is compensated with both a salary and the money collected from the fees. SB 19 proposes that the fee revenue be used to fund the county’s general fund and the Clerk’s office instead of being used to compensate the Clerk directly.

This is something that should have been ended long ago.

Steering for Clean Energy

Wednesday was the busiest day at the Capitol yet. I could barely cross the street to get to the Capitol because a Varsity food truck was feeding crowds of people. Both staircases were blocked with people posing for group photos. And the “rope line” outside the Chamber, now fully functional for the first time since the pandemic, was packed with people waiting to speak to legislators.

V.P Kamala Harris Visit: Midday I escaped to see Vice President Harris at Georgia Tech, who moderated a conversation about climate change. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act made historic investments in clean energy (https://www.whitehouse.gov/cleanenergy), including tax credits for solar power and electric vehicles. Georgia is doing our part too, with a number of electric vehicle and solar energy companies setting up shop here.

Fueling International Friendship

Long days followed by evening events are commonplace during the legislative session. 

Last week, as Co-Chair of the Georgia-Japan Caucus, we presented the new Consul General of Japan, Mio Maeda, with a resolution recognizing the 49th anniversary of the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta. Georgia has a strong economic relationship with Japan, including $8 billion in trade and more than 660 Japan affiliated offices in the state. This week, we attended a dinner at the Japanese Consulate with Japanese dignitaries and business leaders to further strengthen that relationship. I made a short presentation about the role the Japan Caucus plays in strengthening the ties between Georgia and Japan.

Charged-Up on GPB’s Lawmakers

A second evening event this week.

Finally, at the very end of a long week, I headed to the GPB Studio to film Thursday night’s episode of “Lawmakers,” covering what happened on Legislative Day 16. Unfortunately, a couple of bills banning transgender treatment of minors were dropped that same afternoon. Many of you know that my youngest (adult) child identifies as transgender, so it’s an emotional subject for me.  Fortunately, my co-presenter, Maya Prabhu of the AJC, covered the transgender bills and I covered my work on the disabilities service crisis. Here’s the recording (my part starts at 17:40) https://www.gpb.org/television/show/lawmakers/season/53/lawmakers-day-16-020923.

Jump-Start to Next Week and Beyond

“Waivers and Wages” Press Conference & Rally: Thursday, 2/16, 1 pm on the South Stairs of the GA Capitol (indoors). Please join me and other Disabilities Advocates as we rally for Medicaid “Waivers” and increased “Wages” for caregivers. The Rally will celebrate the progress we’ve made, while urging the legislature to finish the job.

Legislative Town Hall with Dekalb Legislators:

Thursday, 2/23, Chamblee City Hall, 7:00 pm. Join me with Representatives Long Tran, Shea Roberts, and Karen Lupton for an update on the current legislative session. A virtual option may be available. Registration details coming soon.

Since the Senate has only voted on a handful of bills, we’ll pay the price during the next few weeks with very long days at Crossover (March 6th) and Sine Die (March 29th).