Working the Floor

Chamber Theatrics

Late this week, the curtain came down on Legislative Day 35, which means there are only five more Legislative Days until Day 40 — Sine Die.

At this point, the Senate and House have begun their traditional backstage brawl — fighting over how many Senate bills the House has passed, and how many House bills the Senate has passed. Right now, the House is way behind. 

Here are the details: At curtain call this week, the Lt. Governor announced that the Senate has passed 62 House bills, but the House has only passed 15 Senate bills. Not to be upstaged by the House, the Senate Rules Chair announced, “Our Rules Committee meeting today will be very short.” The Rules Committee chooses which bills get a vote on the Senate floor.

Until the House gets its show on the road and passes more Senate bills, House bills must wait in the wings

A Backstage Tour

So much of our legislative work takes place behind the scenes in hallway conversations, office visits, and floor huddles. Such is the case with my attempts to create an Innovation Commission for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), an official recommendation made by my bi-partisan Study Committee last year.

Act I: SB 198 Gets Left on the Cutting Room Floor

This session I filed SB 198 to create a 22-member, 5-subcommittee Innovation Commission made up of experts to address the complex issues impacting adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I succeeded in getting colleagues from both sides of the aisle to sign the bill. In other words, I did everything right.

Prior to Crossover Day, I officially requested the Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to allow a vote on the bill in his Committee. Several days passed without the bill being put on the agenda. So I met with the Chairman in his office. I spoke with him on the Senate floor. I texted him a final plea. He wouldn’t budge. It only takes one powerful person to cancel a show at the Georgia General Assembly.

Ironically, this week I noticed that HB 545, an Agricultural Commission for Citrus Fruit, was moving right along through the Committee process. It’s looking like citrus fruit will get a Commission, but not Georgians with IDD. Citrus Farms in Georgia: 70. Georgians with IDD: 226,000.

Act II: Find a “Vehicle” Bill that is Moving

Not to be deterred, the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities Commissioner and I came up with an alternative plan to include my language in HB 520, a major mental health bill moving through the process. As a compromise move, my amendment would create a smaller 8-member IDD Task Force under the already active Behavioral Health Commission. 

I got support for this compromise language from both the Senate & House sponsors of HB 520, as well as lead advocates working on the bill.  I worked with the Commissioner on the amendment language.

Midweek, we began hearing that the Health & Human Services Committee was trying to shorten HB 520, not lengthen it. The Senate sponsor of HB 520 agreed to help me push the amendment and at the end of the week, I caught sight of him huddling with the Senate Subcommittee Chair, and the Lt. Governor’s Policy Director. The next day I was asked by the Lt. Governor’s office to consider accepting a “compromise of a compromise”, giving one IDD caretaker a position on the original Behavioral Health Commission. In other words, no working IDD Taskforce of experts. I emphatically said, “no.”

I have a Plan “B” for my amendment, or maybe it’s plan “C.” I’ve lost count. Stay tuned for Act III.

A Senate Prop: Appropriation Letters

It’s a tradition of the Senate that there can be no Senate adds to the budget unless a Senator submits a letter with a specific ask to the Appropriations Chair. This week I easily collected 26 signatures for Medicaid Home & Community Based Support waivers for people living with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, with at least half of the signatures from Republican colleagues. Two years ago, I was only able to collect about eight signatures — a real sign of the progress we’ve made. 

I also turned in a letter requesting $4 million to purchase land for a new Piedmont Technical College campus in Doraville. This letter had to be signed by all the members of the Dekalb Senate Delegation plus a couple of Senators from the surrounding region. This same monetary request was vetoed by Governor Kemp last year. But this year, we have a specific piece of land being held for us right next to the Doraville MARTA station, so the Governor has no excuse for a veto.

The Plot Thickens on The Transgender Treatment Ban

Early in the week during an impromptu hallway plea, House Chairwoman Sharon Cooper told me she had orders to let SB 140, the transgender treatment ban, out of her Committee. The next day it passed out along party lines. Throughout the week, I visited Speaker Burnes’ office to see if I could get an appointment to make my case against SB 140 directly to him. I finally got word that he would meet with me this coming Monday but the very next morning, I was disheartened to learn that SB 140 was fast-tracked through the House Rules Committee for a floor vote last Thursday.

So many people are hurting over this issue and I spent several evening hours throughout the week talking with groups and constituents. The bill will likely be back on the Senate floor on Monday. Two Republican Committee Chairs in the Senate are doctors and they do not support the change that was made in the House to criminalize doctors, so it remains to be seen what will happen next.

Your Role: Be Loud

Georgia Equality, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ persons, is asking for one last push to Republican Senators, Lt. Governor Jones, and Governor Kemp against SB 140. If you would like, you can join Georgia Equality at the Capitol on Monday, March 20th. Or click on the link to see what else you can do. It’s time to be loud, because I can assure you, the other side is at the Capitol with their high-paid lobbyists making sure they get their votes.