Bills Are Flying

Well, some bills are flying.

Number of Republican Bills on Senate Floor: 69

Number of Democratic Bills on Senate Floor:  0

Crossover Day is this Thursday, the deadline by which bills have to pass one chamber to get to the other. Under pressure to make this do or die deadline, legislators were seen running this week from one Committee room to another, with their bills flying behind them.

Flying Blind

Bills weren’t the only thing flying. The Senate rules seemed to have flown out the window this week as well. For instance, Committee agendas are supposed to be publicly posted at least 24 hours in advance of Committee meetings. But this week, meeting agendas were published late, and bills did not show up until just before the meetings.

Here are some of the bills that Republicans tried to fly under the radar:

Penalties Land on School Librarians

In the Senate Education and Youth Committee, Republicans approved SB 154, a bill that imposes criminal penalties on public school librarians for having “inappropriate materials” in their school libraries. The bill author claims to be protecting minors from sexually explicit content, but as we’ve seen in schools around the country, this is often the first step in banning content that might make students feel “uncomfortable,” such as the history of American slavery, or even the Holocaust.

School Recess Gains Altitude

My Recess bill that gives kids unstructured playtime regardless of whether physical education is on their schedule for the day, SB 432, was on the same agenda as SB 154 in both a Subcommittee and the full Committee. The debate on SB 154 took so long in the Subcommittee that the experts I invited to testify only had two minutes to speak. How do you sum up decades of research in two minutes?  At least I was able to break the tension in the full Committee by starting my presentation with, “This bill has nothing to do with sex.” SB 432 sailed through both Committees with flying colors.

The Hawks Swoop in

The other day on my way out of the Capitol, I noticed a hawk with the moonlight behind it sitting in a tree. It reminded me of the system that was created when the Republicans took over in the early 2000s. They appointed members of their Caucus to swoop into Committee meetings at the last minute whenever they needed votes. They literally called  these men “the Hawks.”

Senate Hawks descended on the Government Oversight Committee this week to vote for SB 390, a bill that prohibits local libraries from purchasing materials from the American Library Association (ALA) and no longer requires library directors to be ALA accredited. When Democrats challenged the Republican non-Committee members that showed up to vote, the Chairman showed us a letter from the Lt. Governor appointing them to the Committee.

Chaplains in Schools Take Off

The Government Oversight Committee also considered SB 379, a bill to allow chaplains to provide support and guidance to students, much like they do in the military and for firefighters. The original bill allowed chaplains to be hired in lieu of school counselors, but a Committee substitute changed that to say that they were to be in addition to school counselors.

I had my hand up the entire meeting, but the Committee Chairman never called on me. Had I been called on, I was prepared to point out that schools should be required to obtain parental consent before a child meets with a chaplain. SB 379 is a step toward introducing religion — primarily Christianity — in public schools. The bill passed along party lines.

Ending Automatic Registration Flies In the Face of Logic

In the Senate Ethics Committee, Republicans approved SB 221, a bill that among other things, eliminates automatic registration. The meeting featured testimony from an election denier and fake elector who claimed that automatic registration creates duplicate registrations. Yet, the Secretary of State’s office says that automatic voter registration is the best way to ensure accurate voting records and verify citizenship. Ending automatic registration is nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep young people, who trend Democratic, off the voter rolls.

This bill also makes voter challenges easier by allowing unreliable change of address data to be used in voting challenges. This session, I filed SB 321, a bill to strengthen the burden of proof for voting challenges, but I’ve been unable to get a hearing.

Religious Freedom Takes Another Test Flight

A religious freedom bill, SB 180, appeared in the Senate Judiciary Committee late this week. Bill supporters claim it’s needed to protect citizens’ rights to practice their religion without government intrusion. But we know these laws can be used as a license to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community and prohibit members of the Jewish community from adopting children from Christian organizations.

Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill in 2016 after the business community voiced strong opposition and we hadn’t seen another one since. There’s now a resurgence of these bills across the country, with supporters emboldened by an extreme Supreme Court.

The Amended Budget Comes in for a Landing

Late in the week, the Senate approved HB 915, the amended FY 23/24 budget, also known as “the little budget.” The bill increases the state’s current budget by $5 billion to include bonuses already paid to state employees, road projects (funded from general funds instead of the gas tax), and new dental and medical schools. The increase will help pay down state debt including $500 million in a state employee pension benefits fund. The Senate and the House agreed on 95% of the bill, but it will now go to an Appropriations Conference Committee to work through the differences.

Clubhouse Atlanta: This year, I submitted a funding request for Clubhouse Atlanta, a mental health non-profit in Dunwoody that provides recovery care to people struggling with chronic mental illness. Clubhouse Atlanta is based on a model that subscribes to a set of 37 specific standards. It’s been proven to provide significant benefits to both the individual member and the community by providing a place for members to come to terms with their illness, make sense of the world, and build self-confidence.

This week, I invited Clubhouse Atlanta’s founder Susie Kyle and Executive Director Denise Brodsky to meet with Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Kevin Tanner to discuss how Clubhouse Atlanta could help meet the needs of the department to keep people out of crisis and out of the hospitals.

What’s Next

This coming week will be long, ending with Crossover Day on Thursday Feb 29th. All of the controversial bills that passed Committee this week will most likely end up on the Senate floor. The good news is that I’ll have two bills — SB 198, the Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission, and SB 432, the Recess Bill — to potentially move on Crossover day, a very strong position for a member of the minority party.

Donna’s Law: Sen. Elena Parent and I are partnering on SB522, which seeks to create a voluntary “no-sell” gun registry for people who experience suicidal ideations, so they can take self-protective action. This Wednesday, Feb. 28th the bill will have a hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee, and we will hold a press conference at 3pm. We’d love to see you there!

Sine Die: March 28th. I hear the bills arriving from the House aren’t quite as bad as the bills the Senate has launched. May the House consider some of the Senate’s bad bills dead on arrival. 🙏🏻