We have picked up steam under the Gold Dome! This Thursday marks “Crossover Day”, the day by which a bill must pass in either the House or Senate to be considered in the other chamber that session. Below I’ve included a detailed update on the work I have been engaged with the past two weeks.
Georgia Coronavirus Update
Georgia has five confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, with three in Fulton County. Like me, you are no doubt inundated with information about hand-washing and other best practices, but for the most up-to-date information, I direct you to the following two websites:
FY-2020 Amended Budget
The House and Senate have now both passed an amended budget for FY2020, which significantly rolled back Gov. Kemp’s proposed cuts to critical services. I proudly joined a bipartisan coalition in the House to exert our independence over the budgetary process and protect the key programs that help everyday Georgians. The amended budget restored funding for public defenders, mental health programs, accountability courts, and Georgia’s Poison Control Center, among others.
The House has yet to take up a budget proposal for FY-2021 but must do so in the coming days.
“Surprise Billing” and Pharmacy Reforms
Last week, the House passed the “Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act”, HB 888, and HB 789, the “Surprise Bill Transparency Act.” These bipartisan efforts were aimed at finally tackling the crushing burden of medical debt that many Georgians face, often due to a health insurance system that makes it very difficult for the patient to know whether services are “in network” or not. You can read more about the specifics of these bills here.
The House also passed three bills aimed at reducing patient costs by regulating what are known as “pharmacy benefit managers.” HB 946 (one “no” vote), 947 (passed unanimously), and 918 (passed unanimously) enact much-needed oversight on these middlemen to ensure they are not placing their own corporate profits over what is best for Georgia patients. You can read more about this trio of bills here.
DeKalb Ethics Update
While initial progress on reconstituting DeKalb County’s Ethics Board has been incredibly slow and dismaying, I am happy to report that we appear to be moving in the right direction. In addition to my “clean-fix” bill, two other bills (one by Rep. Viola Davis and one by Rep. Vernon Jones) have now been put forth to get the Board back up and running.
I am working on a special committee within the DeKalb Delegation to work through all three bills and forge consensus. I am optimistic that we can rally behind a consensus measure in time to get the legislation passed this session in both chambers. Stay tuned!
AGRICULTURE: Updates to the Hemp Farming Act
Last year, I helped lead the effort to legalize hemp farming in Georgia as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and co-sponsor of HB 213. The same hemp advocates returned this year with HB 847, a bill that provided additional, necessary licensure and federal compliance provisions. But HB 847 also sought to criminalize possession of raw hemp––a fully legal substance, mind you––and, for purposes of sentencing, treat it as though it was marijuana (a completely different substance).
Working with colleagues across the aisle, law enforcement officers, and members of the Ag industry, I pushed back strongly against the bill’s criminal provisions during our Ag Committee hearings. I also filed a minority report that would allow me to speak against the bill if it came to the House floor. Because of these efforts, the authors of the bill modified the legislation, stripping the criminal provisions, and we passed HB 847 almost unanimously.
EDUCATION: Homeschooler Access to Public-school Sports
Last week I was able to work with some great constituents to help pass a measure through the House Education Committee that will allow homeschoolers the ability to participate on public-school sports teams. Considering the benefits to both the homeschoolers and the community this bill will bring, along with the fact that homeschooler parents are still required to pay property taxes to support public schools, I found this a commonsense measure. HB 1055 (“Equal Opportunity for Access to Education Act”) passed out of committee with bipartisan support and now heads to the House floor.
EDUCATION: Changes to Dual Enrollment Program
HB 444 passed the House last week after having previously passed the Senate and now awaits Gov. Kemp’s signature. This bill restructures Georgia’s very popular Dual Enrollment program in several key ways.
First, it limits participation to 11th and 12th grade students, or 10th grade students who have either chosen a Technical College track or received a score on the ACT (26) or SAT (1200) that would qualify them for the Zell Miller HOPE Scholarship. Second, it caps each student at 30 hours. Students choosing a high-demand Technical College track are eligible for additional funding through a HOPE Career Grant. Of course, any student can take additional dual enrollment courses past 30 hours but would have to cover the expenses. Third, courses will be limited to core classes as defined under the HOPE Program (the University System of Georgia currently offers 2600 courses on the HOPE core list and the Technical College System of Georgia currently offers 4500 courses on the HOPE core list). Finally, students will not be able to retake courses or withdraw from a course after the drop-add period without having to pay for the course themselves. This eliminates the known problem of students taking the same math and science courses three times to receive a better transfer grade, all at the state’s expense.
Last week, I voted to pass HB 444. While no one truly wants to place limits on the Dual Enrollment program, lawmakers were forced to make reforms this year due to reduced budget numbers and soaring costs to the program. Additionally, analysis of enrollment data from the program showed that student participation was not diverse and did not help those most at need. Although not perfect, I believe HB 444 reasonably balances the competing interests of the dual enrollment program, ensures the program’s long-term sustainability, and provides much-needed focus to the program’s purpose and expected outcomes.
Introducing the Transparency Act: Redistricting Reform
On Friday, I was proud to stand with Sen. Elena Parent to announce our coalition to pass the “Transparency Act” in Georgia, a measure that would require Georgia’s redistricting process take place in public and allow for full, transparent citizen input. You can read more about our efforts, see a copy of SB 491, and view our press conference from last week here.
EARLY VOTING UNDERWAY: Now until March 20
Early voting is happening now—don’t forget to vote! I have prepared detailed Voter Guides for DeKalb County and Fulton County on my website, detailing who and what is on your ballot, along with resources to help you research the issues and early-vote locations.
UPCOMING TOWN HALL: March 26 (Chamblee)
Join me and Senator Sally Harrell on March 26 at the Chamblee Civic Center for a legislative update and town hall! The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. and conclude at 8:00 p.m. You can RSVP via Facebook here.
We’re Back on the Ballot in November!
Last Monday, I qualified for re-election in November. I will face a Republican challenger in the general election and look forward to returning to the campaign trail soon. We’ll officially launch the re-election campaign in the coming weeks but right now I remain focused on fighting for our shared priorities under the Gold Dome.
As always, thank you for reading and being engaged! If I can ever be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Yours in service,