Coming Up: Town Halls!

Thursday, March 14, please join Representative Matthew Wilson, House District 80, and me for a community town hall meeting in Brookhaven at 6:00 pm at Brookhaven City Hall.

On Tuesday, March 19, please join Representative Mike Wilensky, House District 79, and me for a community town hall meeting in Dunwoody at 6:00 pm at Dunwoody City Hall.

What Came Up and What Went Down This Week

Talking about our gun violence epidemic with Maura Binkley’s friends at the Atlanta launch of Maura’s Voice

Turning Pain into Power: Monday morning I attended the launch of Maura’s Voice, a research & public policy initiative founded by Dunwoody constituents Jeff and Margaret Binkley, to honor their daughter Maura who was killed last fall in a Tallahassee yoga studio shooting. In the words of Jeff Binkley, Maura’s Voice was founded “ . . . to foster positive cultural change so that we can effectively address the entirely unacceptable epidemic levels of violence in our society.”

The Atlanta event was one of several around the country. A small and intimate group of Dunwoody neighbors, elected officials, and Maura’s friends gathered in the park across from the Capitol to commemorate this new organization and to celebrate Maura, who would have turned 22 years old that day. I got a little choked up as I acknowledged to Maura’s friends that they are part of a generation of kids who have grown up traumatized by gun violence, and that it is not their responsibility to fix it – it is ours.

The rest of the week reflected this event — a mix of ups and downs. Crossover Day — the deadline by which bills must pass in one chamber of the legislature to move to the other in order to be passed this year — brought an array of bills in both the House and Senate. We were able to pass some good bills and defeat some bad ones. But we also saw some bad bills pass while many good ones will have to wait until next year for another fighting chance.

The ups lifted our spirits while the downs strengthened our resolve to keep fighting.

Legislative Tricks as the Clock Ticks: Following Crossover Day, you might think bills that don’t make it out of their chamber are dead for the session. But it’s possible to get creative about turning ideas into laws without an original bill number. Commonly referred to as “vehicles,” legislators look for another bill that is in the same code section (so that it is “germane”), and they “link” their bill to another as an amendment. In fact, this can happen so often that they say a bill can become a “Christmas Tree,” carrying lots of ornaments it didn’t have when it started. I’ve even seen bills get “hijacked” — totally stripped of the original content and transformed into another bill previously thought “dead.” If you are tracking bills by number, keep an eye out – they may turn up under a completely different number before the session is over.

Gerrymandering & Pre-Existing Conditions:  Senator Elena Parent demonstrated this technique to us on Crossover Day when she introduced part of SR52 (The Democracy Act), as an amendment to a bill that shared a code section. While her amendment didn’t pass, she very much got the attention of our colleagues as she introduced the amendment at the well. And the Republicans who voted against it each cast a vote in support of gerrymandering (think 2020). Senator Jen Jordan did the same when she added an amendment to an insurance bill that dealt with short-term policies and pre-existing conditions. Her amendment, which she had tried for two years to pass as a bill, did pass, because Republicans figured out they should not cast a vote to legalize the denial of treatment for pre-existing conditions. It was fascinating to watch these legislators scurry around trying to figure out how to vote!

Asking tough questions at the Senate Ethics Committee meeting on new voting machines in Georgia

Voting Machines: The beginning of my week centered on HB316, a bill that seeks to address some of our election issues, including voter roll purges and Georgia’s exact match policy. I spent the prior weekend educating myself on the most controversial part of the bill — which kind of voting system Georgia will use for the next decade. On Monday and Tuesday I listened to public comments during the Senate Ethics Subcommittee on Elections meetings and on Tuesday evening, I attended Fair Fight Georgia’s hearing on voting machines. Those meetings reinforced that we have a lot of trust to regain with Georgia voters.

On Wednesday, the Chairwoman of the Senate Ethics Committee substituted a new bill for the bill the House passed and presented this bill to the committee. We were expected to vote on this bill at the end of the meeting, although we had not seen the changes to the bill before. Since HB316 already passed the House, it was not under the Crossover Day deadline so there was no reason to rush this very important discussion. Even so, I offered several amendments to try to improve HB316, including one that would ensure we buy a system that has a 100 percent human-readable ballot. Some companies provide a paper ballot that prints a list of who you voted for, but also embeds your votes in a barcode that is then read by the machine. That same amendment unanimously passed last year when the Senate considered new voting machines, but this year it failed along party lines. Overall, I fought hard, asked hard questions, and pointed out falsehoods during that meeting, but the bill passed along party lines. It will go on to the Senate Rules Committee next.

Being interviewed by WSB TV’s Richard Elliot just after the Senate Ethics Committee

School Vouchers: While I was extremely frustrated with the process to consider HB316, I was relieved by the defeat of SB173, a bill that would have redirected anywhere from $48 to $540 million per year of public school funds into private school vouchers. This bill would have been so damaging to our public school system, especially after 16 years of severe underfunding, that a number Republican Senators abstained from voting and some even joined the Democrats to vote no. And while I was glad to see this bill voted down, I feel deeply for families whose children’s needs are not being met in our public school and are unable to afford the high price of specialized private schools. When we consider education policy, it is critical to recognize what isn’t working about our schools and remain open-minded to creative solutions instead of always sticking with the public school status quo.

Campus Carry Repeal: My goal for SB50, the Campus Carry Repeal, is to make enough noise that we get a public hearing by the end of this year’s session. Now that Crossover Day is over, we’ll continue our push. This week I met with March for Our Lives Georgia’s Co-Legislative Directors to discuss how they can help advance the bill. March for Our Lives is the student-led movement created in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. I so enjoyed meeting with these leaders who brought their ideas about how to get students engaged. SB50 has been referred to the Public Safety First Responders Subcommittee so I encouraged them, as I do all of you, to contact the subcommittee Chair Senator Tyler Harper, (404) 463-5263, and Public Safety Committee Chair Senator John Albers, (404) 463-8055, to ask for a public hearing for SB50.

The highlight of my week — being silly with one of my youngest campaign supporters during his visit to the Senate Chamber

Crossover Day “Ups”:

  • HB426, a bill that would increase penalties for hate crimes in Georgia, passed the House. Interestingly, we passed a Hate Crimes bill in 2000  when I served in the House, but it was rejected by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague. Since then, a large coalition of social justice organizations have fought for new legislation but their efforts have stalled for various reasons. I would be proud to vote for a “real” Hate Crimes bill on the floor of the Senate!
  • HB83, the House version of the mandatory recess bill similar to the one I sponsored during my time in the House, passed. As is often the case when a bill begins in one chamber, this bill needs some improvements which we will work on in the Senate Education and Youth Committee. I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to pass an amended version of the bill in the Senate.
  • HB198, a bill that would eliminate Georgia’s certificate of need process to regulate health services and costs, stalled in the House and did not cross over. This bill would have opened up the market to specialized health centers which would attract profitable customers but leave the uninsured to our hospitals which would have a devastating financial impact on our already struggling hospitals. Even though this bill did not pass, parts of it could come back using another bill as a “vehicle”, or as a “hijacked” bill, so we must continue to watch this closely.

Crossover Day “Downs”:

  • HB481, a bill to ban abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy, passed the House after a very intense and emotional debate on Thursday night. House Democrats fought hard against the bill which not only denies women the right to make their own healthcare choices, but requires survivors of rape and incest to file charges before they can seek an abortion. This just isn’t possible for so many sexual crime victims as they are often related to or reliant on their abusers. Unfortunately we’ll now have to fight this bill in the Senate. For those that oppose this bill, be prepared to BE LOUD. Call Senator Renee Unterman, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee (404) 463-1368, the committee that will take up this bill.
  • SB131, a bill to create a state authority to oversee the Atlanta airport, passed the Senate. This debate on the need for greater state oversight on our largest airport has raged for many years for many reasons. The bill passed and will now be considered in the House.

Vista Grove & Persistence: I know many of my constituents are interested in the status of the Vista Grove cityhood effort with Crossover Day behind us. Organizers were at the Capitol early in the week to lobby for HB 575, a bill to incorporate their area of DeKalb. But later in the week, Gwinnett County Representative Timothy Barr decided to remove his name as the bill sponsor because Committee rules require local bills to be sponsored by legislators that represent that area. But that does not mean that the work to determine what’s best for the Vista Grove area will stop. DeKalb County is about to launch a study with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute to examine service delivery responsibilities between cities in DeKalb and the county to make sure that all areas in DeKalb are receiving adequate service levels from the county and are paying appropriately for those services. This will help DeKalb legislators do our due diligence and residents of the Vista Grove area make better decisions around this issue.

One of the things Democrats and Republicans can all agree on is that Georgia’s voting machines need to be replaced. They were purchased in 2002 and use a Windows 2000 operating system. Windows 2000 is so old, Microsoft doesn’t support it any more! What’s more, these old clunkers don’t even provide a paper trail for recounts and audits.

But what has become a partisan issue is the tools we use to assist in casting and counting our votes. Democrats want hand-marked ballots. Republicans want machine-marked ballots.

As a new Senator, I have heard from many of my constituents in Senate 40 that voting integrity is a key issue. So, I requested and was appointed to serve on the Senate Ethics Committee, which handles voting legislation.

I now find myself in the crossfire of cyber security experts, vendor lobbyists, the Office of the Secretary of State, and voting integrity advocates. All of these groups are trying to influence a $150 million dollar decision on which tools we will use to vote for at least the next decade.

At the center of the debate is HB316, a 41 page bill that combines both Republican and Democrat initiatives. In addition to voting machines, it addresses many of the failures of the 2018 elections: voters being purged from the rolls; absentee ballots being thrown out for “mismatched” signatures; voters turned away because the spelling of names didn’t exactly match official records; polling places that were suspiciously closed with little notice; and too few machines in certain areas, leading to long lines to vote.

HB316 contains some real improvements; it also enables the Secretary of State’s office to purchase what they see as “cutting edge” voting technology. You’d think that the new technology would be the most accurate and reliable, right?

Not always.

I’ve heard from many experts on this issue who say we can’t guarantee that your vote will be accurately recorded if machines are used.

HB316 is said to be one of the most important pieces of legislation for consideration this year. So, in an effort to do my homework on the bill, I spent my weekend educating myself on voting machine systems. It wasn’t the most exciting way to spend a weekend, but I’ve learned a great deal.

The new systems have what Georgia voters want — a printed, paper ballot that contains the names of all of the people and measures that you selected. This paper ballot becomes the official ballot, securely stored and used in random audits. Sounds great, right?

Except, there’s a pretty significant loophole…a scanner reads a barcode at the top of your ballot instead of the names you just checked. In other words, your votes are embedded in a barcode that you can’t read.

Though that’s the most egregious flaw, the more I researched, the more I found aspects of electronic voting that I found concerning.

Paper ballots are only summary representations — not the complete ballot. The thermal paper ballots that the machines print fades over time. Some electronic systems are not federally certified. Some machines have complicated ballot layouts that require huge, 32-inch screens. And some counting devices (scanners) are built in to the voting machines, which cyber security experts say poses a threat to security.

My takeaway is we won’t fix our election system if we spend $150 million on what’s described as the “latest and greatest” technology. And as expense goes up, security goes down.

On the other hand, on-demand ballot printers and scanners for hand-marked ballots look pretty effective and provide a primary source paper trail for use in audits. Initial estimates for hand-marked ballots come in cheaper, around $30 – 60 million. Interestingly, the Secretary of State estimates more than $200 million for paper ballots, but their numbers include huge printing overages that can be eliminated by on-demand printing.

The reality is this: We are going to get the more expensive system because that’s what Governor Kemp wants.

I co-sponsored SB196, which calls for hand-marked ballots, but it hasn’t yet gotten a committee hearing and we are running of out of time in this legislative session.

Ironically, as a member of the Ethics Committee voting on this legislation, even I, a member of the minority party, got asked out to dinner by one of the voting machine vendors. Unlike many of my peers across the aisle, I turned the invitation down.

I have my work cut out for me during the next few weeks as this debate rages on. I will do my homework and ask the hard questions. I will agitate. I will point out falsehoods. But in the end, I will also work to make HB316 a little better, even if I don’t support it in the end.

I won’t let Georgia’s legislators forget that elections are about people. Elections are the sacred guardians of the people’s choice. And no matter how amazing technology is, machines can’t replace people in ensuring free and fair elections.

The Importance of Persistence

Last year, a campaign volunteer made me a bracelet bearing the famous phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted.” This week, I wore that bracelet to the Capitol because I knew we were in for a tough week.

Challenging Senator Tillary on the Senate floor about the false narrative that Medicaid is “broken”

Being part of the minority party is much more challenging than being in the majority like I was during my time in the House. We’re playing defense, which requires teamwork and strategic thought. This week I worked hard to draft amendments to improve some bills, and spoke with colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — to gain their support. Despite all that work, many times it comes down to pure numbers and we can’t change or stop bills we oppose, like the voting machine bill in the House and the Medicaid bill in the Senate. And now we have a discriminatory, business-killing “religious freedom” bill in the Senate and two abortion bills in the House. There are so many fires to fight.

But the week ended with a great reminder that persistence pays off. When I was in the House, I worked hard on a bill to require mandatory recess in schools. The energy release during free play time is so important for child development and learning. Unfortunately, my bill didn’t pass. But late this week, I learned that the Senate Education and Youth Committee was considering a mandatory recess bill, SB210, similar to mine. I notified Dr. Olga Jarrett, a national researcher and expert on the benefits of children’s play, and asked her to come the next morning to testify. The bill passed unanimously out of committee and I’m hopeful it will get through both chambers and become law this year.

Sometimes bills sail through the General Assembly. And sometimes they take years to pass. Sometimes we’ll have influence and sometimes we won’t. We have to remember that we’re playing a long game. And so, we must persist.

Persisting this Week

Legislators representing Gwinnett County held a press conference to urging Gwinnett residents to vote for the MARTA referendum

Some of the craziness at the Capitol right now can be explained by the “Crossover Day” deadline, March 7, which is the day a bill must pass one chamber in order to cross over to the other chamber and be passed this year. If a bill misses the deadline, it has to wait until next year for consideration. New bills are popping up everywhere, as are Committee meetings, to consider the bills. This week I spent time on a wide range of bills — everything from big picture state issues like Medicaid and voting machines, in-district issues like municipalization and annexation, and even industry and environmental issues like shellfish farming.

Medicaid Expansion: The week began with an intense debate on the Senate floor about SB106, the Governor’s bill to explore very limited Medicaid waiver options. The Senate Democrats fought hard to expand coverage to as many people as possible, but the Republican majority would not consider any amendments. During the floor debate, I took issue with the false narrative that Medicaid is “a broken system” and pointed out that the vast majority of Medicaid recipients are very satisfied with their coverage. Senator Nan Orrock reminded our colleagues that doctors are unsatisfied with Medicaid because reimbursement rates in Georgia are too low. But those reimbursements rates are set by the legislature, so if the system is “broken,” we know who to blame. Unfortunately, the bill passed the Senate.

Vista Grove: Vista Grove is a cityhood effort to incorporate the part of DeKalb where I live. I know many of us are frustrated by the lack of attention our area receives from the county, so last weekend I met with the Vista Grove organizers who have been very persistent in pursuing cityhood, after a similar city proposal was rejected by voters four years ago. Also this week, legislators who make up the DeKalb Delegation met to discuss Vista Grove and other cityhood efforts. When considering new cities, we must look at the big picture both inside and outside the Vista Grove footprint including impacts to the county and surrounding cities. DeKalb County is about to launch a study with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute to examine service delivery responsibilities between cities in DeKalb and the county to make sure that all areas in DeKalb are receiving adequate service levels from DeKalb and are paying appropriately for those services. This will help legislators do their due diligence when creating new cities and reduce unintended consequences that lead to future disagreements.

Each day, our “Doctor of the Day,” serves as the Senate’s Doctor in residence to take care of medical needs at the Capitol. I had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Donald Siegel, a retired Air Force Colonel, long-time trauma and general surgeon and Senate District 40 constituent

Norcross Annexation: While the DeKalb Delegation discussed municipalization, the Gwinnett Delegation discussed annexation. The city of Norcross wants to annex a large area of Gwinnett that would almost almost double the city’s size. They argue that incorporating that part of Gwinnett, which includes low income communities, could help strengthen the area with more responsive city services and development that could attract business and offer jobs closer to home. It’s a compelling argument for local control, but like cityhood, we must consider the larger issues and impacts to the county. Gwinnett County officials oppose this annexation due to reduced county revenue.

Voting Machines: Again, Democrats are playing defense on this critical issue. Early in the week, House Democrats fought to improve HB316, a 41-page bill that deals with many voting issues.  The bill passed the House and was assigned to the Senate Ethics Committee. Ethics was one of my top Committee choices because I wanted to work on this issue. The bill attempts to address many of 2018 voting issues like voter roll purging, the closing of polling places, and exact name and signature matches, but the heart of the debate is the purchase of new voting machines. Everyone knows the old machines need to go, and there is $150 million in the budget for new machines. But should we stick to hand marked ballots and scanners, as the cyber security experts say we should, or buy the latest and greatness technology because it’s easier to use?

I have co-sponsored SB196, which requires ballots to be hand-marked, but HB316 is moving quickly. Everyone agrees we need an auditable paper trail, but some voting machines print a ballot for you to verify, then scan a barcode to tabulate your vote rather than the list of names you just checked. After an extensive review of all the machines available, I’m concerned that we could spend millions of dollars for the “latest and greatest”, then be very disappointed. I will work hard to try to improve this bill, but in the end I don’t know that I can support buying immature technology with so many potential problems. It’s time to BE LOUD and call the Senate Ethics Committee Chair, Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, (404) 656-3932, and your own Senators and ask them to support an amendment to require printed ballots with no barcodes.

This week I had two young Senate District 40 residents serve as Senate pages on the same day

Shellfish Farming: Yes, I spent a hour this week learning about shellfish farming in coastal waters. In the Natural Resources Committee, we considered SB182, a bill to regulate oyster farming along the Georgia coast. This industry has never been regulated in Georgia before and this new system would establish a way for aqua farmers to lease acreage in intertidal and subtidal waters along the coast and set up their oyster farms. The bill passed out of the Natural Resources Committee and the full Senate and will be heading next to the House.

Creating Citizen Advocates: This weekend, I spoke to the Marching Buddies, a progressive group in Tucker, to help train everyday citizens to advocate for important issues at the Capitol. I took them through “How a Bill Becomes a Law” in Georgia and shared some of my personal experiences at the Capitol as we went through the steps. Citizen advocates are so critical to the legislative process, now more than ever. We need you to make phone calls, write emails, and to come down to the Capitol to meet with legislators and pull them out to the rope lines. Voters have the most sway over lawmakers. So please continue to push and be loud! And by the way, Marching Buddies hosts lots of great postcard parties. To join, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MarchingBuddies/.

Citizen Power! hosted by Indivisible Marching Buddies of Atlanta

Next Saturday, March 2nd, I will be presenting, along with Stephanie Ali of the ACLU, at “Citizen Power!” hosted by Indivisible Marching Buddies of Atlanta. Join us Saturday, March 2nd, 10:30am – 12:30pm at the Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library, 5234 LaVista Road, Tucker. We will be presenting on how a bill becomes a law, and how you can support and influence legislation. RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/.   

Be Proud of Being Loud

This week a supporter told me he contacted his newly elected Republican representative to discuss voting machines, gerrymandering and Medicaid. Then he resignedly said, “He’s well indoctrinated into the Republican line of thinking and I got really nowhere with him.”

I know these phone calls may seem futile, but they matter. If we don’t make these calls, Republicans stay comfortably in their bubble, and they don’t realize we exist. We must agitate. Don’t forget – many of them know they must listen if they’re going to win their re-election campaigns.

As an example, this week after hundreds of Moms Demand Action advocates showed up to the capitol in their red t-shirts, a friend of mine overheard a couple of Representatives admitting that they knew they were going to have to give a little on gun issues, or they were going to continue losing more districts.

Showing up matters. Being loud works.

Citizens Crowding the Capitol

At the Gold Dome, we often refer to “working the rope-line.” When we say this we are describing the areas outside the chambers where school-aged “pages” serve, waiting to deliver messages to legislators inside the chamber. If the legislator is able, he or she comes out to talk with constituents across the rope that divides the page area from the public area.

I love coming out to the rope line to meet people, and this week I got so many page messages that I had a hard time keeping up with the debate inside the chamber! It was a busy week for citizen groups who came out to influence legislators on their issues.

Redistricting Reform: I joined dozens of Georgians from across the state at an Advocacy Day event organized by the ACLU, Common Cause Georgia, and Fair Districts GA to advocate for SR52, The Democracy Act, sponsored by Sen. Elena Parent. The bill calls for greater transparency, stronger redistricting standards, and an independent bipartisan redistricting commission, modeled after California’s commission. Twenty one states now have some form of non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission. The only way our lawmakers will consider this issue is if you get loud and demand it. In addition to your representatives, call Senator Matt Brass, Chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, (404) 463-1376 to ask for a hearing on SR52 and sign up for Fair Districts GA action alerts to help continue to push for this bill. Finally, this bill needs a state-wide push, so think about who you know across the entire state who would be willing to make a call to their legislators, and reach out to them.

Improving Our Voting Process: So many voters packed the House Elections Subcommittee hearing to oppose HB316, a bill to reform Georgia’s voting processes, that the AJC took notice and reported on it. Melanie Manning and Betsy Shackelford, who both worked hard on my campaign, testified at the hearing. Melanie asked the committee to keep the current ratio of voting machines to voters at 200:1, instead of increasing it to 250:1. She saw first hand how under-resourcing at a polling location led to long lines and frustrated voters leaving without casting their vote. Betsy spoke eloquently to dispel the myths about handmarked paper ballots, what she called the “state of the art” gold standard for secure voting.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell offered an amendment in sub-committee to require that paper ballots be printed and machine read in a human readable format, rather than an unreadable barcode. The amendment was defeated but Rep. Trammell said they picked up one Republican and there was a considerable amount of interest in the amendment. The bill passed out of committee and will likely pass the House this week and make its way to the Senate, where further improvements can be made.

Giving a hug to a student at Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day who was there to honor her friend, Maura Binkley, who was tragically killed in a yoga studio shooting in Florida.

Responsible Gun Ownership: Last year I was one of the many moms, dads, and students advocating for gun reform at the Capitol for Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day. This year, I was thrilled to speak to the group as a newly-elected Senator now able to advance the fight with SB50, my Campus Carry repeal. This day will definitely go down as the highlight of my session.

The thing about Moms Demand Action is that many of their members carry the intense pain of having lost loved ones to gun violence. But they are there turning their pain into power, and I’ve honestly never felt as much collective power as I have at Moms Demand Action Day at the Capitol.

We gave each other many hugs across the Senate rope-line, and those hugs and cheers from so many friends, constituents, and supporters were incredibly uplifting. I brought all of that power and energy with me to my very first appearance later that day on GPB’s “Lawmakers” program. It reminded me that my most important role is to be your voice when you can’t be present at the Capitol.

On the set of GPB’s “Lawmakers” to talk about repealing Campus Carry

Thank you to everyone who has been getting the word out about Senate Bill 50, my bill to repeal Campus Carry. We are flooding social media, keeping phone lines busy, and having personal conversations at the “rope lines” outside the House & Senate chambers. I am hopeful that Sen. John Albers, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, will soon schedule a public hearing for the bill.

Addressing Dyslexia: Every once in a while, there’s a bill that everyone can feel good about. SB48 requires schools to identify and support kids with dyslexia in their early school years and provide more dyslexia information and support to teachers and schools. Led by my predecessor, Senator Fran Millar, this was a well-studied effort and well-written bill with a great deal of citizen input and support. Advocates for the bill were at the Capitol last week for Dyslexia Day to push for its passage. And this week, Senator Millar joined us on the Senate floor to watch it pass unanimously.

With Margie Singleton and Lisa Walls, two friends who created Margie’s Law to inform women with dense breast tissue that they may be at higher risk for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Education: Margie’s Law, HB62, is a bill advancing quickly through the process of becoming law. What’s significant about this bill is not only what it does, but how it came about. Margie Singleton and Lisa Walls, from the Savannah area, came by my office this week to tell me about their bill. Margie and Lisa aren’t professional lobbyists or members of a major advocacy organization. Margie is a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed 6 months after a clean mammogram.  Lisa is a healthcare professional who didn’t know about the risk of dense breast tissue until she heard about Margie. Together, they saw a need and launched their own effort. Margie’s Law requires health facilities that perform mammograms to inform any patient who has dense breast tissue that they need to obtain further screenings.

Healthcare: The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a restricted debate on SB106, the Governor’s Medicaid Waiver bill. Previously, I reported that the Governor proposed spending $1M for experts to study Medicaid Waivers. In the 2018 – 2019 Amended Budget, which has now passed the House and Senate, this amount was increased by $600,000, and brings in a Federal match of another $1M. That’s $2.6M in taxpayer money to study an already well-studied issue. The research shows that full-scale Medicaid expansion works to increase healthcare access, decrease insurance premiums, create jobs, and put people back to work. Call the Governor’s Office at (404) 656-1776 and the Lt. Governor’s office at (404) 656-5030, as well as your own representatives to oppose SB106 and the lucrative “Medicaid Waiver Study Contract.”

Announcements:

A crowd of 40+ joined us for our Coffee Chat with Sally in Dunwoody.

My next Coffee Chat will be in Chamblee at 10 am on Saturday, March 16th. Location TBA.

Save the date for these upcoming joint Town Hall Meetings with House Representatives in Senate District 40:

  • Representative Matthew Wilson and I will host a Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, March 14th at 6:00 pm at Brookhaven City Hall.
  • Representative Mike Wilensky and I will host a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, March 19th at 6:00 pm at Dunwoody City Hall.

We’ll post Facebook events and announce other Town Hall meetings soon.

Georgia’s Health is on my Mind

Come share a cup of coffee in person at my next Coffee Chat with Sally. We’ll be in Dunwoody at the Georgetown Starbucks at 10 am on Saturday, February 23. It’s just a casual conversation about whatever’s on your mind. Bring your friends and neighbors. We’ll also soon be announcing our State Senate 40 Town Hall Meetings coordinated with your State House Representative.

Yellow Card

My yellow values card will guide my decisions during my time in the Senate

With the pace of bills to vote on picking up now, I placed on my chamber desk my Yellow Values Card that I originally wrote when I served in the House of Representatives. Many of you heard me talk about these values during my campaign. And, this week I gave a Values Card to each of my fellow newly-elected Democrats in the House and Senate.

A Impending Healthcare Earthquake

Last week I said, controversy is coming . . . well, it’s here and it’s healthcare.

The healthcare debate revolves around two intertwined issues:

  • Georgia Republicans’ unwillingness to accept Federal Medicaid expansion.
  • The proposed elimination of Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) program,

Both can impact Georgia’s healthcare delivery system for many years to come, and the current trajectory will leave more people without healthcare.

Womens Caucus

Chairing a very crowded and lively Legislative Women’s Caucus meeting on Maternal and Infant Mortality

The Healthcare Crisis: The GOP introduced two bills — SB106 and SB74/HB198. The first, dubbed “The Patients First Act,” is the Governor’s proposal to explore very limited Medicaid expansion options. The second is a plan to eliminate Georgia’s Certificate of Need (CON) program which protects our hospitals and helps ensure access to care for all Georgians (see this article for good background on the CON debate). The first bill doesn’t go far enough to cover all Georgians that need healthcare while the second eliminates regulations that protect Georgia’s hospitals from going bankrupt and protects patients from predatory practices. Without fully expanding Medicaid, it’s irresponsible to eliminate the CON program when our hospitals are already struggling.

Moms and Babies Reveal Georgia’s Ill-Health: Georgia ranks among the states with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates. Representatives from the Georgia Department of Health spoke to about 75 people at this week’s Legislative Women’s Caucus, a group I co-chair. We learned that many moms die from complications that occur weeks after giving birth, when Medicaid benefits run out. These are not easy issues to tackle, but I am grateful that Georgia has a Maternal Mortality Review Board that looks at every single death to determine trends and recommend solutions.

Environmental, Financial and Community Health

Coal Ash Storage: The House & Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committees held a joint session this week to hear presentations on the issue of coal ash and what’s being done to prevent spills and protect against coal ash storage failures. I was very happy to see Tina Wilkerson, a constituent who has championed clean energy as a leader of Solarize Dunwoody, at the meeting. Coal Ash storage is a huge issue for Georgia. As long time lobbyist Neill Herring says of current storage inadequacies, “It’s like putting poison in a cardboard box and saying the cardboard is safe.”

GSU Students

Great to meet Georgia State students visiting the Capitol who gave my Campus Carry Repeal bill a thumbs up.

College Loan Defaults and Professional Licenses: The Higher Education Committee discussed SB92, a bill that prohibits all state boards that issue professional licenses from refusing, suspending, or revoking the license of anyone who defaults on their student loans. It simply doesn’t make sense to take away someone’s livelihood when they have loans to repay.

Speaking Out on Gun Safety: On the first anniversary of the tragic shooting at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several colleagues and I spoke from the Senate well about the importance of taking action on gun safety. The Public Safety Committee, chaired by Senator John Albers, is considering a school safety bill, but it’s disingenuous to talk about school safety without considering common sense gun laws. Until we pass gun reform, we’ll still have tragedies like Parkland. If gun safety is important to you, call both Senator Albers (404) 463-8055 and Lt. Governor Duncan (404-656-5030) and demand hearings on the gun safety bills.

Building Healthy Relationships with the Board of Regents: At a reception this week, I met the Chancellor and members of the Board of Regents that oversees the University System of Georgia. The governor appoints Board members to serve a voluntary seven year term. The Board has 19 members, five of whom are appointed from the state-at-large, and one from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts. The Board then elects its chancellor to lead the body. Building these relationships is important for my work on Higher Education.

Announcements

Page

Noah Manning was the first of three young Senate pages from my district this week.

Citizen engagement is critical for a healthy democracy. Be loud. Your involvement can influence which bills get hearings and which bills are left untouched. Spread the word. Call and email Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston, and your state representatives. We all need to hear from you, so we can report which issues are important to our constituents. Share your stories. Write letters to the editor in your local papers. Also, all legislative committee meetings are open to the public and if you are able, I encourage you to attend one that may be of interest you.

This coming week will a big opportunity to engage on two other very important issues. Redistricting Reform advocates will be at the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for a bill to create an independent bipartisan redistricting commission. And on Wednesday, hundreds of concerned parents and students with Moms Demand Action GA will be there to advocate for common sense gun safety, including the Campus Carry Repeal. I plan to be with both groups and I hope to see you there.

Let the Real Work Begin

The first ten days of the session have been packed with ritual, rule-setting, and resolutions. So far, only a handful of bills have made it through Committee and onto the House and Senate floor for votes. But that’s all about to change this coming week. The official session schedule has been set, with Crossover Day scheduled for March 7th. Crossover Day is the last day for bills to get a floor vote before “crossing over” to the other chamber. That means it’s crunch time. The last day of session, known as Sine Die, is April 2.

Expect the controversy to begin.

That’s where you can play a critical role. Please do not underestimate the power or your own voice! Now is the time to call, email, and/or send postcards. Honestly, getting as few as ten phone messages or postcards about a single issue can put an issue on a legislator’s radar. Now is the time to Be Loud!

Here’s What We’re Working On

Speaking from well about #RepealCampusCarry

#RepealCampusCarry This week, I experienced two “firsts” when I filed my first Senate bill since returning to the General Assembly, and took my first personal point of privilege to speak from the Senate well (podium) about why we shouldn’t allow guns on college campuses. The bill was assigned to the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Senator John Albers who represents Senate district 56, which primarily covers Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton, and Roswell in north Fulton County. Senator Albers now holds the power to decide whether or not SB50 will get a public hearing and vote.

Here are three important ways you can help advance this bill:

  • Share my well speech to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #RepealCampusCarry. This will help create awareness of the bill and get the issue back into the public debate.
  • Call, email, and/or organize postcard parties to encourage Senator Albers to hold a public hearing and vote on SB50. It is especially important that he hear directly from his constituents. If you are a constituent, please include your address on all correspondence (including phone calls).
  • Attend the Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day on February 20 where the Campus Carry repeal will be one of their top priorities. This will be an opportunity to encourage lawmakers in person to support the repeal. Sen. Harrell will be speaking!

ERA Needs Your Help:  I was so proud to support the bipartisan bill to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA. But that bill is now in jeopardy as my colleagues across the aisle have been lobbied by energized and highly organized vocal opposition groups that believe the ERA will allow women to equate male birth control options like vasectomies to abortions and argue that women should have equal access. This week Senator Matt Brass removed his signature from the bill, stating that he can’t take the risk that passing ERA might result in increased abortions. Senator Renee Unterman, the Republican co-sponsor of the bill, has been working hard behind the scenes to make sure that the Republicans who signed the bill hold strong, arguing that being pro-life doesn’t mean you can’t be pro-ERA. But these lawmakers very much need to hear from constituents that support the ERA. Please reach out to thank Senators Kirkpatrick, Albers, Martin, Beach, Jones, and Hufstetler for their courage in signing the bill. You can also call the Lt. Governor’s office at (404) 656-5030 to state your support of the Senate Resolution 66.

Voting for the DeKalb Ethics Commission

DeKalb Senate Delegation: Under the leadership of chairman Senator Emanuel Jones, the DeKalb Senate Delegation passed two important local bills. The first was to re-establish the DeKalb Ethics Commission, which had been ruled unconstitutional. This new bill fixes that problem and doesn’t require another referendum since it simply revises the law already approved by the voters. Another bill, SB53, addresses an issue that was uncovered when the City of Atlanta annexed a part of DeKalb that had a high tax base, but only a few DeKalb students. DeKalb lost a significant amount of revenue while maintaining the same number of students, which adversely impacts the DeKalb school system. The Senate passed SB53 to prevent this from happening in the future.

College Affordability: In the Higher Education committee meeting, we discussed new ways to make college more affordable, including an income-sharing agreement bill brought forth by Senator Sheikh Rahman. This bill needs more work, but I was pleased Chairman Tippins gave Sen. Rahman, a freshman Democratic Senator, a chance to present his bill. I sit next to Sen. Tippins in the chamber, so I bend his ear a lot about the escalating price of college.

Working to Stay Connected

Despite being in session all five days this week, I still found time to visit with people in the district!

Boy Scout Troop 15

— Thank you to Boy Scout Troop #15 for inviting me to visit (my son earned the rank of Life Scout in this troop). The boys and I had a lively discussion about how a bill becomes a law using mandatory recess, a bill that I worked on when I served in the House, as an example. The bill got enthusiastic support from the Scouts! The next day, I was thrilled to welcome the Girl Scouts visiting the Capitol. I led my daughter’s Girl Scout troop for eight years.

 

Girl Scouts at the Capitol

— At a new legislator’s breakfast hosted by the Georgia Supreme Court, I was honored to meet Presiding Justice David Nahmias, a Dunwoody constituent who does wonderful work on the Committee on Justice for Children to assess and improve the foster care system, adoption laws, and the juvenile justice system. It was also great to reconnect with Justice Michael Boggs, with whom I served in the House of Representatives.

— I participated on a legislative panel at a breakfast hosted by Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies where I was Executive Director before my time in the GA House. We discussed maternal and infant mortality in Georgia, the most critical issue facing mothers and babies today. Medicaid expansion, which would put an insurance card in people’s pockets and save troubled rural hospitals, is one obvious solution.

— The Dekalb Democrats invited Senator Elena Parent and me to their February meeting to update them on my Campus Carry repeal bill, SB50, and her Redistricting Reform bill, SR52, that would establish an independent redistricting commission much like California has that would be responsible for drawing district lines in a highly transparent process instead of allowing lawmakers to draw them to their own advantage behind closed doors. Voting rights and gun safety are two areas where Georgia’s Democrats can lead, so I was happy to have time to focus on these issues.

Coffee Chat in Peachtree Corners

— I held my first in-district Coffee Chat to spend some casual quality time with constituents in Peachtree Corners. We had a very energetic and engaged group who was eager to hear what’s happening at the Capitol and asked lots of great questions. We’ll be hosting a series of these Chats around the district, the next one being at 10 am on February 23rd at the Georgetown Starbucks in Dunwoody. We will soon be announcing other Chats in Chamblee, Brookhaven, and Doraville.

— Sunday evening I’ll spend time with the Dunwoody Homeowners Association to hear more about a Georgia Department of Transportation project at the top end Perimeter that has caused great concern among residents in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.

As always, my ears are open to you. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Senate office.

The Nation’s Eyes are on Atlanta!

With Super Bowl weekend approaching, legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle want to ensure positive press — so rumor has it that the filing of controversial bills has been put off until after Super Bowl weekend. Note: Keep this in mind next week and and be ready to play defense!

Also, the Georgia General Assembly adjourned early this week because legislators can’t afford Super Bowl hotel rates on their $173 per-diem. We were only in session for two days this week since Tuesday was a (non) snow day. Even though we have been working for three weeks, we have only used seven of our 40 legislative days.

For a change, women were the beneficiaries of a positive spotlight!

ERA Supporters

Proud to stand with my colleagues to announce our effort to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA

The Georgia Senate made headlines when we introduced a bill to make Georgia the 38th state to ratify the ERA! I was proud to sign the Senate bill this week and stand with my colleagues as we made our press announcement.

Many people are surprised to learn that the ERA is still not a part of our Constitution. While Congress passed the ERA in 1972, 38 states are required to ratify a Constitutional amendment. Should Georgia become that 38th state, there will still be some work needed to lift the 1982 deadline that was imposed by Congress. There is a bill in Congress to eliminate the deadline, or the deadline could be challenged in court. The GA Senate now has enough signatures to pass the ratification bill if it comes to the floor, so it is now up to our House leaders to determine if Georgia will make history.

Cities, Counties, and Cigars

Having nine cities and three counties in my Senate District can be both blessing and a challenge. On the one hand, it gives me a “birds eye view” of what’s happening in all of those cities and counties and an opportunity to identify common themes and challenges and share ideas and best practices among local leaders. But it also means I have many meetings to attend!

This week, I continued to connect with local leaders, focused on countywide business while still supporting big picture issues. Here’s a “snapshot” of what I worked on:

Community Meeting

Gwinnett County Police said it was a first — to have a both a State Representative and a State Senator attend a Crime-Free Multi-Housing community meeting. Thanks to Charles Levinson and the Barrington Hills Apartment Community, Peachtree Corners, for inviting both Rep. Beth Moore and myself!

Visiting with City Officials: During the session, lots of local and state advocacy groups come to visit the Capitol and many times offer a casual breakfast or lunch so that legislators can stop by and say hello in between chamber sessions and committee meetings. This week, I visited with the DeKalb members of the Georgia Municipal Association during lunch, which allowed me to reconnect with mayors, city council members, and city managers that I had previously met, and talk with others that I hadn’t yet met. The box lunch they provided ultimately fed me and my staff member Amy Swygert, and I still took home leftovers and fed my daughter! Thank you, DeKalb Municipal Association!

Taking Care of County Business: Many of Georgia’s larger, urban counties organize into official House and Senate delegations and meet regularly to discuss and pass local legislation. This week, I met with both the DeKalb and Gwinnett caucuses and was honored to be elected Vice Chair of the DeKalb County Senate Caucus.

Being “One of the Boys”: Making progress for women sometimes requires becoming one of the boys because it can be a great way to build bonds with colleagues. This week, I accepted an invitation to join the “Cigar Caucus,” even though I don’t smoke. Fortunately, newly elected Rep. Matthew Wilson attended too, so I was in good company! I remember cigars being a big part of the General Assembly culture from when I served before. House Speaker Tom Murphy, the longest serving House Speaker in United States history, with whom I had the honor to serve, often had an unlit cigar in his mouth (it was not legal to actually smoke in the chamber). At the Cigar Caucus I shared a picture from 1999 of all the female Representatives sharing an unlit cigar with the Speaker for his birthday.

New Bills are Starting to Fly

Senator Tonya Anderson, My office suite mate, and I congratulate newly-elected Democratic Party of Georgia Chair Senator Nikema Williams.

Each week, I will have opportunities to sign several bills on issues big and small. I can’t mention them all in my weekly update, but you can always find legislation that I’ve signed here: “Member Legislation: Sally Harrell“.

Medicaid Expansion: Healthcare is still the most critical issue facing Georgians. Ben Watson, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, wrote an article proposing a Medicaid “waiver” program similar to Indiana’s program. I was born and raised in Indiana, so I took a look at what they are up to. What I found were some unique program components that set up access obstacles that have resulted in decreased utilization. That’s why I went ahead and signed SB 36, a Democratic bill to fully expand Medicaid, which is the only way to put an insurance card in the pocket of 500,000 Georgians and keep our rural hospitals open.

Redistricting Reform: I signed SR 52, a Constitutional amendment to reform the way we draw Congressional and legislative district lines in Georgia by creating a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission like ones already in place in about a dozen other states. These Commissions remove the impossible ethical dilemma lawmakers face in drawing their own district lines. Preserving voters’ rights to choose their own elected officials instead of the other way around is critical to preserving democracy. In November, voters in Michigan, Colorado and Missouri overwhelmingly passed ballot initiatives to create independent redistricting commissions. States with independent redistricting commissions have been shown to produce much more competitive elections.

Moms Matter: During my time in the House, I became a new mom just prior to my second session, and ended up needing to breastfeed my son while on the job. While I’m glad this led to a law to protect women who breastfeed in public, I would have very much welcomed a lactation room that many workplaces now provide. Unfortunately, the Capitol still does not have such a room, so I was happy to co-sign SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Jen Jordan, to finally create an official lactation room at the Capitol for nursing mothers. I remember fighting for two years just to have a diaper changing table installed in the Capitol!

Announcements

Last week, I mentioned the Senate Page Program which is a wonderful way to get your kids involved in state government. You can fill out the application on the Senate Page Program website and then send it to my assistant, Anna Boggs. Her email address is Anna.Boggs@senate.ga.gov. Please note that her this is her correct email address. We had a slight typo in our last update.

Thank you to everyone that volunteered to help us with Local News and Events and Photography! We will be in touch shortly with more specifics.

Recess Doesn’t Mean Break Time

The Appropriations Committee Room, where legislators have been deciding state budgets for over 100 years.

This week the legislature was in recess, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t working! Georgia’s Constitution limits the length of the legislative session to 40 days, which isn’t really long enough, so we take “breaks” to concentrate on committee work. Even though I’ve been working for two weeks, we’ve only used four Legislative Days!

The legislature uses the week of the MLK holiday to present an overview of the Governor’s proposed budget. This week I attended these budget hearings. During my previous service in the House of Representatives, I served on the Appropriations Committee, so I know the huge impact the budget has on the priorities and values of our State.

The budget hearings are an opportunity for Heads of Departments to showcase their accomplishments and briefly outline their priorities. As with any committee, the hard work of moving money around to redefine priorities happens in Committees throughout the session, and this process has only just begun.

Constituents Matter Most

Joining with my House colleagues to provide a legislative update to the Roswell group Needles in a Haystack. Don’t we look more like the haystack now than the needle?

This week I met with constituents around the district. I did a lot of this during the campaign, but now, as a Senator, I represent everyone. It’s important to make sure all voices are heard.

Here’s a “snapshot” of who I have been meeting with and what I took away.

The Waiting List for Disabilities Services: Families are struggling with the Medicaid waiver process to access critical services for their adults and children with developmental disabilities. Advocating for people with disabilities has always been a priority of mine. Georgia is 45th in the nation in funding to support people with disabilities, so there’s a lot of work to be done. I have already visited with numerous parents who have children with disabilities. Medicaid Waivers allow for in-home support, but for decades there have been long waiting lists (now called “Planning Lists”). At the budget hearings, the Department of Community Health acknowledged that applying for services should be easier for families, and listed as one of their priorities “Continuous Process Improvement.” What I am hearing from parents is that applications are extremely cumbersome, so I will work with the Department to help them achieve this goal.

Visiting with constituents who were writing postcards advocating for redistricting reform.

Technical Education in Georgia: Several constituents have asked me to ensure that more Georgians have access to Technical Schools. Did you know that Georgia has 22 Technical Schools, and that 17 high-need diploma programs are free under Hope Grants? This is a step in the right direction, but I’m concerned about the shifting of costs from tuition to “fees” which aren’t covered by the Hope Grant. On a positive note, this week I had the opportunity to sign a letter of support for the construction of an additional technical school in south DeKalb county. I will continue to work on these and other issues through my service on the Senate Higher Education Committee

Dekalb County legislators meeting with the Emory LaVista Parent Council and the Peachtree Gateway Council on Schools

K-12 Education in Georgia: Finally, I spent time with several local school councils. It is clear to me that our schools are suffering from budget cuts – billions of dollars of lost revenue over the last decade. School overcrowding, stagnant teacher and support staff pay, and lost revenue from private school vouchers, tax abatements and annexations are all creating pressures to serve more students with less money. Georgia has failed year after year to update its school funding formula, and until we do that and begin to pay back over a decade of under-funding, we cannot responsibly say we have “fully funded” our public schools.

Celebrating MLK in Lynwood Park, Brookhaven

I began the week honoring MLK Day with members of the historic Lynwood Park community in Brookhaven. Lynwood Park is a historically African-American community that has undergone dramatic changes in recent years due to gentrification and changing demographics in the area. I was so moved by the wonderful memories current and former residents shared and their deep connection to Lynwood despite these changes. It reminded me that economic progress can be a double-edged sword for communities like Lynwood that stand to lose a part of themselves as neighborhoods grow and evolve. Addressing income inequality and supporting policies that promote housing affordability remain a top priority.

Announcements

— As we continue to get my Senate office up and running, we’ve realized how much work it is to cover a district that’s three times larger than the House District I represented. I’ve heard from several supporters that they’d like to help, so this week we identified a couple of new volunteer roles, including helping us keep up with local news and events in your area (more details and sign up here) and serving as a volunteer photographer (details and sign up here). We’d love to have you join the team.

— The Senate page program is a terrific one-day opportunity to help kids, ages 12 to 17, experience our state legislature first-hand. To learn more, visit the Senate page program web page and if interested, follow the instructions for how to apply. Send the application to my assistant, Anna Boggs at Anna.Boggs@senate.ga.gov, and she’ll get it to the Senate page office. They will take it from there.

Next week, we are back in session Monday through Wednesday and then off again for the Super Bowl weekend to help alleviate traffic downtown.

Please stay in touch.

–Sally

This weekend, I was honored to attend several observances of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy, including Georgia’s official annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute.

Let Freedom Ring!
Of the many memories and calls to action shared this weekend, I took particular inspiration from Dr. King’s ability to love people even as they exemplify the ugliest sides of humanity.

Dr. King loved with a bravery and fierceness that made no room for hate. And because he loved, it seems to me, he had hope for all of us to be better and do better for each other.

I think of this now as we see partisan politics driving wedges between us. I think of this now as new generations are learning to peacefully demonstrate for change.

We must be mindful that injustice and inequity have never left our communities. They have been there all along, quietly oppressing people of color, people who are poor, people who are new to our country, and other minorities.

For a while, we perhaps became complacent. We saw change, but we, as a society, did not acknowledge how much work is left to be done.

We must expand Medicaid to enable 500,000 more Georgians to access lifesaving healthcare. We must prevent gerrymandering and reform our voting process to make sure every vote counts. We must reform the criminal justice system to prevent unnecessary use of force and racial bias. We must rebuild our public education system to help all of our children get a better chance at fulfilling their potential.

I am not the first and I won’t be the last person to say that we need Dr. King’s legacy now more than ever to help us achieve these changes. We need his wisdom and his commitment to peace.

Most of all, I believe we need his sense of hope.

–Sally

Welcome to “Sally’s Senate Snapshot,” my regular correspondence to keep Senate District 40 constituents up-to-date on what’s happening at the Gold Dome.

Week 1 was one of ceremony and start-up. We elected Senate leaders like the President Pro-Tem who will fill in for the Lt. Governor when he cannot preside over the Senate, all of the newly elected and re-elected Senators were sworn-in, and we attended the Governor’s State of the State address. We also spent time getting my office up and running. When you call my Senate number (404) 463-2260, you’ll speak to my new administrative assistant, Anna Boggs, who also works for Sen. Tonya Anderson. Anna is a veteran Senate staffer, so she will be as helpful to you as she already has been to me.

Between all the pomp & circumstance, we got right to work. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I was honored to be sworn-in to serve the people of Senate District 40 with my husband Jay and sister Anne at my side. It was a momentous moment of shared expectations and hope.
  • The Senate voted on new rules that govern how we operate. Unfortunately, we were given virtually no time to review the rules before the vote, and my colleagues and I had serious concerns about a rule change that puts a 2-year time limit on filing sexual harassment claims against Senators, and a ban against filing complaints once a Senator becomes a candidate. We also had questions about a new rule that limits free speech in and around the Senate chamber. The Democratic Caucus and one Republican Senator asked for more time to review and discuss the rules, but we lost the vote to the majority who approved the new rules.
  • We received our committee assignments. I will serve on the Higher Ed, Ethics, and Natural Resources committees. With two kids about to enter college, I feel the pain of college affordability along with many of you and I hope to find some solutions through the Higher Ed committee. The Ethics committee will consider bills related to a new voting system for Georgia, one of my top priorities. The Natural Resources Committee will allow me to learn more about our environment and how our natural resources impact Georgia’s economy.  
  • Leadership opportunities did not get doled out equally. Women and people of color are underrepresented on committees that consider the most bills and overrepresented on those that only consider a small number of bills. Republican leaders even reduced the powerful Judiciary Committee that considers bills related to our legal system by two seats to prevent two new highly-experienced and decorated female lawyers from participating. I was proud to watch my female colleagues from both sides of the aisle make very strong statements objecting to Republican leaders overlooking their talent and expertise.
  • Speaking of women, I was elected to co-chair the Women’s Caucus, the only bipartisan, cross-chamber caucus in the General Assembly. There are more women serving in the Georgia General Assembly than ever before thanks to women who volunteered and voted in record numbers. We now have a big responsibility to come together to focus on and address the needs of women. We plan to kick off the caucus later this month.
  • We began drafting my first piece of legislation in the Senate —  to repeal the wildly unpopular Campus Carry bill that Governor Deal signed in 2017. Gun safety is one of my top priorities and I continue to hear from teachers and students that they feel less safe with this law in effect. The Capitol is a gun-free environment. Our students and teachers deserve the same sense of security as our lawmakers.
  • I signed on to several bills including SR 18 requiring the Secretary of State to be replaced if he/she qualifies to run for another political office, to prevent the very unethical practice of a Secretary of State overseeing his/her own election. I also signed SB 27 to allow TSA workers to draw unemployment benefits during the federal government shutdown to keep our airports running smoothly and safely during this very difficult and disruptive time for our federal workers and our country.

We are not in session next week so that we can attend hearings for Governor Kemp’s proposed budget — I’ll update you on that next week. The Governor did highlight certain budget priorities in his State of the State address which I support, such as raises for teachers and state employees, school safety grants, and extra funds for high school mental health counselors. His commitment to Medicaid expansion, however, was lacking details, so I will be paying close attention to the Senate Health Sub-Committee of Appropriations next week.

Our official legislative session will begin again on Monday, January 28th.

The best way I can represent you is to hear from you. Please feel free to contact or come by my office any time. My Senate web page is still under construction, but you can find my email address and office location there. My Senate office phone number is (404) 463-2260.