Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

Follow the Leader

Medicaid Expansion and Hospital “CON” Reform

Instead of using hospital regulatory reform (Certificate of Need, aka CON) as a bargaining chip for Medicaid Expansion as North Carolina did, Georgia Republicans are following the lead of the Governor by refusing once again to expand Medicaid.

This week, the Senate passed HB 1339, the CON reform bill. Among other things, the Senate version exempts ambulatory surgery centers from CON regulations. These centers don’t have to accept Medicaid patients and cherry pick off the more profitable procedures, leaving local hospitals to fund the non-profitable procedures.

I knew there was some GOP support for Medicaid expansion in the House, but this week I overheard some Republican Senators saying we should have expanded Medicaid before reforming CON. They’re worried about hospitals in their districts. What a missed opportunity to help people and communities across Georgia with the resources needed to support life.

Follow the Votes: Transgender Medical Treatment

This week the Senate Health and Human Services Committee amended HB 1170, a good bill that makes opioid overdose antidotes readily available in public buildings, to include a ban on puberty blockers for transgender kids. Last year, when a slew of bills banning transgender care were introduced in state legislatures across the country, Georgia was one of the only states that kept puberty blockers available. What changed? Powerful Republican leaders are now facing far-right primary opponents and feeling the pressure. Look for SB 1170 to be on the Senate floor soon.

What won’t be on the Senate floor — SR 785, a resolution I filed on behalf of Community Estr(El/la), an immigrant transgender advocacy organization recognizing March 26th as Trans Liberation Day to honor the struggles and achievements of transgender people. Instead of being placed on a unanimous consent calendar for Privileged Resolutions, SR 785 was assigned to the very same Committee that banned puberty blockers. Think it’ll get a hearing? Probably not…

Follow the Middle Course: Suicide and Firearms

Democrats are constantly searching for ways to reduce gun violence that our Republican colleagues will support. This year, Senator Elena Parent and I may have found one in “Donna’s Law,” aka SB 522, a personal liberty bill that allows people with suicidal tendencies to put themselves on the “Do Not Sell” Firearms list to protect themselves from making a hasty, irreversible decision. Suicides, not homicides, account for the majority of gun deaths in Georgia.

It’s rare for a gun safety bill to get a hearing, but the Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee allowed one for SB 522 this week. A variety of mental health experts and suicide prevention advocates testified in favor of the bill, including Donna’s daughter, Katrina Brees, who surprised us by flying in from Louisiana. Katrina believes that if “Donna’s Law” existed, her mother would still be alive today. We held a press conference later that afternoon.

Follow the Money: Data Centers and School Vouchers

Thursday, the Senate passed HB 1192, a bill that suspends a sales tax break for high-tech data centers for two years. Legislators have been scrutinizing the long list of tax incentives used to attract business to Georgia. It makes sense to study the cost benefit of these incentives, but a pause pulls the rug from under businesses that chose to locate here based on the tax incentive and causes uncertainty for projects in the pipeline. Environmental advocates informed us about the huge amount of natural resources data centers use, so I intend to watch the data storage industry for its impact on global warming.

Across the hall, the House passed SB 233, the school voucher bill that allows $6,500 per student to be used for private school or homeschooling, by just one vote. This year, to make it more palatable for Republicans who voted against it last year, House leadership loaded it with incentives like writing teacher pay raises into the school funding formula and allowing students to enroll in public schools outside of their districts. I’m sure primary pressure plays a role in the bill’s passage too. The amended bill will have to pass the Senate before it heads to the Governor’s desk.

Follow the Logic: Higher Ed in Prisons Study Committee

This week, I filed SR 770, a Study Committee Resolution to examine how we can offer higher education in Georgia prisons to reduce recidivism. Intern and constituent Lillian Hanson has been working on this issue all session, making connections with experts and advocates for our office so we can build on them in the years to come. When I asked the Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee to sign the bill, his seatmate signed it too, saying, “It only makes sense!”

I also filed two other common sense bills this week — one that requires regular school building inspections like we do for restaurants, and a bill allowing colleges to opt out of Campus Carry and requiring gun storage and firearm safety training for those that allow guns on campus. While they won’t move this session, filing them now allows me to refile and move them more quickly next session.

Follow My Values

With only five legislative days remaining (expanded to two calendar weeks), now is the time when it’s easy to lose track of values. I campaigned hard on sticking to my values, and I believe they are why I have been re-elected three times.

In May, I am facing a primary election opponent due to my vote on HB30. While this bill was called the antisemitism bill, I think it will do little to reduce hateful acts toward Jewish people. However it will regulate how some of us speak about the Israeli government. America was founded on the courageous acts of standing against powerful government, and we may find ourselves in that position again, depending on the outcome of our 2024 election. My abstention on HB30 was a vote to protect the free speech of every American. While my opponent desires to make this race about war in the Middle East, I intend to stand for the justice and freedom that leads to peace.

Here’s my “inclusiveness” value that I followed: “We extend our world beyond our own family, community, and ethnic group to include a wide range of others — have-nots, minorities, the homeless, people with disabilities, people from other nations and even the earth itself.”

I still carry my “yellow value card” with me to the Capitol. It’s the card I made during the early 2000s when I served in the House and watched Republicans take over the legislature. I’ll keep it close at hand the next couple of weeks and follow it with every vote, even when it means someone might get mad at me.

We Need Your Urgent Follow Up!

SB 198, my bill to create an Innovation Commission for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), hit a major roadblock when the Chair of the House Public Health Committee declined to schedule a hearing for the bill. I spoke with the House Speaker’s office this week to ask for their help, and if you care about this issue, you should too. Call 404.656.5020 or email to let him know that Georgia’s system to support adults with IDD is outdated and broken and that we need the Speaker’s help moving SB 198 forward to fix it.

I’ll be back at work at 9am Monday morning for the 36th legislative day.