Recapping the 2019 Legislative Session

As the dust continues to settle many of you, like me, may still be trying to process exactly what happened. We saw the passage of bills which I believe will harm our electoral process, protections for women in our state, and some of our basic constitutional rights. But there were also small victories and promises kept that motivate me––and I hope you, too––to continue the fight for progress. 

Below are some limited highlights from my first session. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive summary, I will point you to full summaries provided by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute and Georgia House Budget & Research Office.

I am committed to continuing to advocate for you and for the policies I pledged to advance, and I think it will be clear through my first session’s work that I’ve been doing just that.

My Priorities Are Yours

Throughout the campaign, I heard the same chorus from neighbors all across HD80: we want safe and successful schools; access to quality, affordable healthcare; and more transit options. I’ve stood up for all of those priorities this year in the legislature. 

Education and Safe Gun Ownership
We passed out of the House Education Committee, of which I am a member, and of the full House bills to require recess for all elementary school-aged students and requirements that courses be offered today for the careers of tomorrow. Unfortunately, we also passed “school safety” legislation that didn’t address the pernicious threat of gun violence in schools and instead may unintentionally criminalize teenagers who take pranks too far. While I’m grateful for my colleagues attention to our children’s safety, I do not believe common-sense gun safety legislation should be the third rail of our state’s politics. That’s why I introduced legislation to close the gun show loophole and to restrict unstable individuals’ access to firearms. I’m hopeful that next year these concerns may be addressed.

I was also proud to sign onto a full Medicaid expansion bill, and to oppose Governor Kemp’s healthcare “consultant” boondoggle, which was a $150 million dollar bill not to expand access to care but to pay a consultant hand over fist to tell us what kind of Medicaid waiver plan the feds would allow Georgia to pursue, when we already know full Medicaid expansion would allow Georgia to draw down the federal taxes we’re sending to Washington and cover over 400,000 Georgians. I also voted against several efforts to allow for-profit hospitals to cherry-pick the most lucrative medical procedures from non-profit hospitals across the state who rely on their profitability to pick up the tab for the ER care and uninsured patients we require them to take on. The legislature did take steps forward in expanding telehealth options, which I was proud to support, and in allowing some medical professionals licensed in other states to practice in Georgia without having to gain recertification.

Local Priorities

Transparency in DeKalb County
I was very pleased to see CEO Thurmond sign an Executive Order establishing a Charter Review Commission. Stakeholder groups will be making appointments to this commission over the next month, and the commission is set to hold its first meeting in early summer.

We passed a DeKalb Ethics Bill which I did not support. Originally, the purpose of the bill was both fix an unconstitutional provision of the previous law and to further improve the Ethics Commission’s ability to hold county leaders accountable. Unfortunately, too many interested parties were allowed to make changes to the bill to the point that I, and others, believe defeated the entire purpose for the legislation. You can read more about the negative aspects to the bill here. The bill passed both chambers.  

We also passed a bill concerning annexation in DeKalb County. SB 53 provides that boundaries of an independent school system will not change when a municipal annexation occurs. This bill provides much-needed clarity for the annexation process, particularly for the City of Decatur.

You can read an article about these and other DeKalb County bills here.

Tax Relief for Brookhaven and Chamblee Residents
I sponsored tax relief bills both for Brookhaven (HB 645 and HB 647) and Chamblee (HB 272 and HB 273) that all passed both chambers and now await signature by the Governor. These bills provide for a November referendum before any tax exemptions would take effect.

Brookhaven City Charter Update
I authored a bill to make several changes to the Brookhaven City Charter based on recommendations from a citizen-led Charter Review Commission and formal endorsement by the City Council. The bill made two changes: it increased the term limits for the position of mayor from two four-year terms to three and it allowed the City Council and Mayor to fill any vacancies in their positions when less than 12 months remained in the unexpired term. After passing the House, the bill was amended on Sine Die in the Senate. Because the House ran out of time to approve the Senate’s changes to the bill, it did not pass this year. However, the bill remains active, and I look forward to getting it across the finish line in 2020.

GA-400 and I-285 Construction Projects
I’ve kept a close eye on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to reshape GA-400 and I-285 in the near future. I firmly believe that we can’t just pave our way out of traffic in the north Atlanta metro area and whatever construction of BRT “hot lanes” is deemed necessary must also be part of a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the impact on local residents. We can’t allow temporary fixes that will only require further construction plans every five years. 

Although I was unable to join, I was happy to see Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and Councilmember Linley Jones host a town hall recently to provide initial information about GDOT’s plans in our area. You can watch a video of the town hall here. This is just the first of many informational meetings to be held over the next five years. My intent as your link to state government is to make sure you have access to GDOT officials who can answer your questions as more information becomes available.

Signs of Progress

LGBTQ Equality
This was the most historic session for LGBTQ rights in Georgia ever, due in part to our increased representation and collective impact. Not only did we see the legislature, for the first time in years, turned away from so-called “religious freedom” efforts to discriminate, but we saw actual victories and key advancements on major bills that improve the lives of LGBTQ Georgians.

We sent a number of bills to the Governor that increase state resources dedicated to stopping our HIV epidemic in Georgia, including a pilot program to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) assistance andprotection for community health professionals conducting syringe-exchange programs. We also passed an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes billin the House, the furthest such a proposal has ever traveled.

I was proud to co-sponsor a House resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969, long recognized as the start of the modern-day gay rights movement. But the perhaps the most surprising victory was that for the first time in Georgia history, the legislature heard testimony from victims and medical experts on the proven harm from conversion therapy. I was proud to introduce a bill banning this barbaric practice and look forward to raising more awareness so that we can move this bill out of committee next year.

If you’ve made it this far, you are a true champion! I appreciate your continued engagement and support and consider it the highest honor to serve as your state representative. If I can ever be of help, I hope you’ll let me know.