The 2018 legislative session is in the books! I was honored to represent the 119th and to receive so much support and input from you and other voters here. I’m writing with highlights of what we accomplished, what we fought hard to prevent from becoming law, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the next legislative year.
Supported and Passed
I’m proud to point to some true wins for the people of Georgia in this legislative session.
HB 683 – Budget
A victory for Georgia’s kids: The final budget fully-funded the “QBE formula” — a minimum amount of per pupil funding designated by the state for “Quality Basic Education” (QBE) — for the first time since 2002. There was initially a $167 million gap between the appropriated funds and the necessary funds under the QBE formula, but in the final budget, Governor Deal altered the revenue estimates wiping out the funding gap. Fully-funding QBE has long been a Democratic value, and this is a significant victory for our public schools. My Democratic colleagues and I will press next year to continue this funding, and to restore state funding to Georgia’s colleges, universities, and technical schools.
HB 930 – Transit
An important step forward for ending the gridlock that so often paralyzes our region: A comprehensive metro-Atlanta transit bill successfully made its way through both chambers. HB 930 consolidates the various transit authorities into the Atlanta-region Transit Link (“ATL”) Authority attached administratively to the GRTA. The thirteen metro counties currently under the jurisdiction of the GRTA may opt into the system, and Gwinnett County may have a vote as early as this year on the necessary taxes. In addition to the funding mechanisms included in HB 930, $100 million in bonds was included in the final budget for transit purposes.
HB 159 – Adoption
A boost for adoptive families in Georgia: This bill carried over from 2017 and modernized the adoption procedures throughout the State. The changes sought to make the process more clear and efficient for everyone involved. The discriminatory language included in previous versions of the bill was not part of the final version, however it did reappear in SB 375, which passed the Senate this year. That bill did not receive any hearings in the House, leaving the adoption reforms intact.
HB 673 – Distracted Driving
A common-sense step toward safer roads and fewer traffic fatalities: Stemming from multiple meetings in 2017, a distracted driving bill was passed this session. HB 673 prohibits holding a mobile device while driving a vehicle. HB 673 does not prohibit the use of GPS services, smart watches, or earpieces. Exceptions were made for those performing official duties, such as first responders, as well as for citizens making emergency calls. The fines for first offenses were reduced in the final version to only $50 with gradual increases for subsequent offenses.
Opposed and Passed
Unfortunately, despite heavy opposition from Democrats, some bills we strongly opposed made it through the Republican-dominated assembly and to the Governor’s desk. We continue to oppose these measures and urge the Governor to veto them.
HB 623 – Fingerprint bill
A setback for protecting Georgians against identity theft: HB 623 also failed on Crossover Day, but it was unfortunately added to SB 336 later in the session. This legislation authorized the giving of full fingerprint records to the FBI for state employees whose work requires a criminal background check. Sharing full fingerprint records (rather than fingerprint minutia) goes against best security practices, and the sharing of this information with the FBI would be done without any oversight. HB 623 was defeated on Crossover Day, but a limited version of this bill was included in SB 336. The new language only applied to a few agencies, but the language still allowed for the unrestricted sharing of fingerprints to the FBI. Unfortunately, SB 336 passed both chambers on Sine Die.
SB 315 – Hacking bill
A backward step for cybersecurity: SB 315 would discourage threat researchers from coming forward when they discover vulnerabilities, when we should be encouraging this activity. I spoke out strongly against this law, which could lead to researchers being prosecuted if they detect and report a way that hackers could breach online security.
SB 263 – Stockbridge/Eagle’s Landing
A dangerous precedent for local government in Georgia: My Democratic colleagues and I took a position against SB 263, which was the companion to SB 262. These two concerning pieces of legislation would allow for the de-annexation of portions of the City of Stockbridge and the creation of the City of Eagles Landing. While local decisions like this are sometimes necessary, this bill would only give part of the City of Stockbridge a vote on the matter. ,Even more troubling, if the City of Eagles Landing is approved, it would leave Stockbridge with all of their outstanding debt and less than half of their previous revenue. SB 263 passed on Sine Die and now heads to the Governor’s Desk for signature. We will continue to support the residents of Stockbridge and speak against this unprecedented action.
Opposed and Not Passed
Our opposition (and your phone calls, letters, and grassroots efforts) did hold the line on some attempts are truly ill-conceived legislation.
HB 482 – Voucher bill
We said “no” to a giveaway of public school money to private schools: Midway through the session on Crossover Day, a school voucher bill made its way to the House floor for a vote. HB 482 would have created “Educational Scholarship Accounts” allowing for parents to take money from the public schools for use in private education in certain circumstances. These programs have been shown to increase both racial and socio-economic stratification regardless of their scope while reducing the funds available for public education. HB 482 failed on Crossover Day, and it was not incorporated into any other legislation.
SB 363 – Voting Rights
We prevented new restrictions on voter access to the polls: SB 363 would have required counties to choose only one Saturday or one Sunday for early weekend voting. This would have effectively eliminated Sunday voting throughout the State. In addition, the bill would have moved the closing time from 8pm to 7pm for Atlanta’s municipal elections. Each of these changes sought to restrict access to the polls when the people deserve a greater voice in our elections. This bill did not pass through the Rules Committee and never made it to the floor.
SB 403 – Voting Security
We demanded secure, verifiable voting machines: SB 403 would have sought to update our outdated and unsecure voting systems but did not mandate systems in line with best practices for voting machines. Because of this, I stood firm against this form of the bill. By the time it reached the House floor, SB 403 had been amended to only call for a commission on the subject. However, the makeup of the commission would have likely skewed the report in favor of vulnerable and unverifiable systems. I voted against this bill on the floor, but it did in fact pass the House. The Senate disagreed with the changes causing the bill to fail.
The most frustrating part of such a short session is that some work always remains unfinished. Here are some of our priorities for the 2019 session — that we hope will be even more doable with added support from some of the House and Senate seats that may flip to Democratic candidates this fall.
HB 669 – Medicaid Expansion
Provide healthcare to more Georgians, and protect rural hospitals: HB 669 would have authorized the necessary appropriations to fund Medicaid expansion and receive the matching funds from the federal government. This has been and will continue to be a priority as Medicaid expansion is the best solution for rural development. Expanding Medicaid will keep rural hospitals open by resulting in $1.3 billion annually in new economic activity and creating an estimated 70,000 jobs in rural Georgia. The 2016 uninsured rate in Georgia was 12.9%, the fifth highest in the United States. This rate could be cut nearly in half just by expanding Medicaid. The 240,000 Georgians caught in the coverage gap would have become eligible for Medicaid had this bill passed. Unfortunately, no action was taken on HB 669 prior to Crossover Day. However, due to the persistent efforts of the Democrats, partner organizations, and, most importantly, the people, HB 669 received a hearing in the Health Appropriations Subcommittee prior to Sine Die. This hearing was a significant step in bridging the coverage gap in 2019.
HB 1013 – Voting pre-registration
Ensure more of our young adults are ready to vote at age 18: This bill would move the age of pre-registering to vote from 17.5 to 16 years of age. Following the successful model of other states, this bill would encourage our young people to stay engaged throughout a full presidential election cycle, since that often starts two years before the day of voting.
HB 786 – Disallow insurance discrimination for victims of sexual assault
Protect sexual assault systems from losing their insurance coverage: Currently, an insurance company is not allowed modify rates or cease coverage for a person who was a victim of family violence. This bill extend that protection to victims of sexual assault.
HB 955 – HOPE full tuition bill
Make college more affordable for families in Georgia: I was a cosponsor of HB 955 which would update HOPE to fully cover tuition as opposed to only a portion of tuition.
These are only a few of the most noteworthy pieces of legislation that I worked on this session, In addition, there were a number of other pieces of legislation I sponsored, co-sponsored, or worked hard to persuade others on both sides of the aisle to vote for.
On the Horizon
Independent Redistricting Commission
I strongly believe that voters should choose their officials. With partisan gerrymandering, it is the other way around. Establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission is something I’ll be working towards in the off session.
Earned Income Tax Credit
I signed on to HB 984, an earned income tax credit for Georgia. We’ve seen the effectiveness of this policy at the federal level in building up the middle class. We should do this in Georgia as well.
Common Sense Gun Safety
As awareness grows of the risks of high capacity magazines and the prevalence of assault style weapons, it is far past the time where we discuss this critical safety issue. The safety and security of our public spaces, and our children’s lives, depend upon it.
A Few Reflections
It was an intense three months of long days and nights shuttling between Atlanta and Watkinsville, and there was a definite learning curve to understand the ways of a venerable institution like the General Assembly. The only thing to inspire me as much as your faith in me as your Representative has been the impressiveness of my colleagues in the House. They set a high bar for excellence, hard work, and dedication. I was also surprised at the respect given to our colleagues, even when we vehemently disagree. There were many more lessons I learned along the way during the late nights of research to make the case for better legislation. But with the support of my family, an incredible group of interns and volunteers, the camaraderie and guidance of colleagues such as Rep. Deborah Gonzalez, Rep. Spencer Frye, Rep. Sam Park and Democratic Leader Bob Tramell — and especially with the support and input of people like you — it was an incredible experience, both productive for our community and personally rewarding.
Although the session is over, some of my busiest months are ahead. I’ll be meeting and talking with many of you to hear your concerns and priorities for the next session. Together with colleagues, I’ll also begin working on legislation and attending hearings this summer and fall so that we will be ready to hit the ground running when the session begins next January. Please continue to stay in touch with me during this time on what matters to you. I’ll be holding office hours in person and on social media, as well as making the rounds to grassroots organizations throughout Oconee and Athens-Clarke Counties.
And of course, there is the election, in November. Republicans want this seat back, and we can’t let that happen. I’ll be facing one of my two previous Republican opponents from last year, and I hope for an even bigger margin of victory, but I can’t do it without your help. I’ll be asking for your time and talent as a volunteer to knock on doors, make calls, and spread the word, and for your donations, to buy yard signs, brochures, mailers and ads that can urge others to get engaged in the election. Most of all, I’ll be asking for your vote on November 6, in what is perhaps the most important midterm election in our lifetime. Thank you for being there with me so far — let’s keep working together to put people first.
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