Sally’s Legislative Town Hall: Save the date! Please join me and Georgia House Representatives whose districts overlap Senate 40 for a virtual legislative town hall on Thursday, February 18th at 7:00 pm. Details will be forthcoming.
Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux Virtual Open House: Join US House Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux and her staff for a Virtual Open House event showcasing their new district office.
- February 9, 2021 at 6:00 pm
- February 11, 2021 at 9:30 am
- February 15, 2021 at 12:30 pm
To R.S.V.P. please email Rob.Tester@mail.house.gov
Workers at the Capitol
The grounds around the Capitol are completely torn up in preparation for Governor Kemp’s new fence around the building. Workers are digging trenches as State Troopers in military garb patrol the perimeter of the building carrying M4 rifles. Does this sound like a war zone? The price tag for all this is five million dollars. While the security is unfortunately necessary, the fence is abominable.
Inside, the empty Capitol hallways echo. The people aren’t there. Many lobbyists are even staying away.
The Capitol doesn’t feel like the People’s House right now. The legislature is trying to carry on business as usual, but since the people aren’t there, it is not business as usual.
Protecting our Essential Workers
Senate COVID Spread: While the spread of COVID in Georgia is showing signs of weakening, we continue to have positive cases in the Senate. Once again this week, I sat next to a Senator in a committee meeting who had tested positive but hadn’t gotten his test results back yet. This meant I had to cancel plans to see family and I’m wearing a mask around my house. This must be how many essential workers feel. Since I learned the Senate isn’t doing formal contact tracing, I went to the Senate well (https://youtu.be/sIr4NqXKpTM) to thank my colleagues for voluntarily disclosing their positive results, hoping to encourage other Senators to do the same.
Teachers & School Personnel: As vaccine supplies still lag, do we only focus on vaccinating people over 65, or bump teachers and school personnel ahead in line? Public health makes these decisions by evaluating data regarding serious illness and death, in order to protect our healthcare infrastructure. Eighty-five percent of COVID deaths are people ages 60 and older. But schools are an important part of our economic structure. Many parents can’t work when their kids are at home, plus we must recognize the social and emotional needs of our children.
There are 450,000 public school teachers and personnel across the state who need two doses of vaccine and we are currently receiving just 156,000 vaccine doses per week.
Leftover Doses: One Senate 40 constituent who is volunteering to administer vaccines shared with me the other day that there were 590 people registered at a vaccination site. At the end of the day, there were 200 no-shows. If only we could organize those unused vaccines for teachers! If you have ideas or thoughts about how we can get our teachers vaccinated, please let me know. There are also many people under 65 who have serious risk factors and disabilities who need a place in line.
Serving our Displaced Workers
Possible Department of Labor Changes: The Senate Appropriations Committee added funds for a “Chief Labor Officer,” a position that would be appointed by the Governor to oversee operations at the Department of Labor. This is in part due to our months-long efforts to “be loud” on behalf of our constituents who have had such a hard time getting their unemployment benefits. But Republicans quickly got on board when it was revealed this week that the Labor Commissioner was late getting financial information to the State Auditor, threatening our state’s AAA bond rating, the highest grade financial firms give state governments, which in turn allows us to borrow money at lower interest rates.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the amended budget early next week.
Working For the People
It was a quiet week as many committee meetings were cancelled so we could focus on the mid-year budget. But several important issues were addressed:
Tax Incentives: Among the few bills we voted on this week, the Senate unanimously passed SB 6 to allow the Senate to evaluate tax incentives given to businesses to determine if the state is getting an appropriate return on our investment. This is long-overdue and sorely needed to make sure we’re not giving away money without getting something of value in return. Nine billion dollars worth of tax incentives are given out each year by the state.
Medicaid Public Option: I filed my very first bill of the session, which creates a public health insurance option for Georgia. Senate Bill 83 directs Georgia’s Department of Community Health to design a “Peachcare Public Option” that allows all Georgians, regardless of age, income level, or insurance status to voluntarily purchase a Medicaid Managed Care plan, the same system used for Georgia’s popular Peachcare for Kids program. The Peachcare Public Option would cost consumers no more or less than what it will cost the government to provide the service, and it would cover all ten Affordable Care Act essential benefits, including maternity, mental health, preventative care and prescription drugs. The plan could cost substantially less than an equivalent private plan. This approach contrasts with the Governor’s partial Medicaid Waiver Plan, which steers people to insurance brokers who then sell plans that cover less and have high deductibles.
Working for Families
Caucus Work: One way legislators advance our policy work is through official Caucuses, which are bipartisan policy groups that regularly meet to learn about issues. This session, I’m a Vice Chair for the Working Families Caucus, which focuses on economic issues facing families.
This week, the Working Families Caucus (link) presented an in-depth analysis of the Governor’s FY 2021/22 budget, otherwise known as the “big” budget that we’ll pass later this session. The Governor’s proposed budget is $1.2 billion below pre-pandemic spending levels, maintaining deep cuts to education, criminal justice, transportation, and human services while our savings account is at a record high. I have always been proud Georgia’s fiscally responsible budgeting, but Governor Kemp has padded our savings account more than any other Governor in the past decade, while our citizens struggle in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. I find that unacceptable.
What’s Not Working
Voting Rights: The Senate Ethics Committee hears all of the voting bills and I specifically requested this Committee assignment when I was first elected so I can fight for voting rights. This week, my Republican colleagues rolled out a slate of voting bills, many of which will make it harder to vote by proposing to eliminate ballot drop boxes, automatic voter registration at the DMV, and absentee voting for most people.
Many Georgians have been tragically misled about the integrity of our elections. But as leaders, it is our job to correct those misperceptions instead of perpetuating them. In the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, these bills are a major distraction from much more urgent issues. I am ready to do my part to fight these voter suppression efforts. I’m hopeful that even if they pass the Senate, they’ll get a tougher reception in the House. But ultimately they will fail because Georgians now know that their votes make a difference and no matter what, we will make our voices heard!
All voters, no matter their party affiliation, will be impacted by these bills, so I encourage you to be “be loud.” Contact your representatives and members of the Senate Ethics Committee, to let them know that you oppose bills that make it harder for people to vote. Utilize your network of friends across the state who can reach out to their representatives, especially Republicans. It’s especially helpful to share stories of Republican voters who will find voting harder due to these bills.
The Senate’s Uncertain Work Schedule
We do not have a legislative schedule past Monday, as House and Senate leaders work to decide if they will suspend session once the Senate passes the mid-year budget. We hope to know more very soon!