Sine Die wrap-up

The 2020 legislative session officially ended around 10:30 Friday night. This session was like none we’ve seen in a long time. Below, I’ve provided an update on key issues on which many of you have reached out to me about.

HB 426: Hate-Crimes Legislation

Friday was a bittersweet day. I joined Governor Kemp and many colleagues as he signed into law HB 426, providing Georgia with a fully inclusive hate-crimes law for the first time. I was proud to be a co-sponsor of this historic piece of legislation and worked across party lines right up until the last minute to ensure its passage. After more than a decade of fighting for this bill, we finally have hate-crimes protections back on the books in Georgia.

Bipartisan gathering of legislators at Gov. Kemp’s signing of HB 426 into law on Friday.

However, the passage of HB 426 was a silver lining in an otherwise dark storm that was the 2020 session. The incredibly hurtful policies passed by Republicans through HB 838 and the FY21 budget cast a long shadow across the most vulnerable Georgians. So, while we celebrate the passage of HB 426 in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner (and we should!), we must also reflect on all the work that remains to be done.

HB 838: Hate-crime Protections for Law Enforcement

As part of a compromise within their ranks, Republicans pushing for passage of HB 426 also agreed to support passage of HB 838 that creates a new offense of “bias motivated intimidation” against law enforcement and first responders. This very dangerous bill passed both chambers on a party-line vote and sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting his approval.

Some good news came yesterday, however, raising the possibility for a veto. The ACLU has raised concerns that this bill would actually lessen the penalties for deliberately killing a police officer under Georgia’s “rule of lenity.” Because the punishments provided in HB 838 are substantially less than what current law provides for murder, courts could be required to sentence a defendant convicted under the new law to a dramatically reduced sentence.

We await word from Gov. Kemp on whether he will approve the bill or veto it. If he wants the bill to take immediate effect, his deadline to sign it is Tuesday. If he signs the bill into law on July 1st or later, it won’t actually become effective until January 1st. Stay tuned!

FY21 Budget

On the final day of session, Republican leaders submitted a proposed FY21 budget that included nearly $1 billion in cuts to public education, $242 million in cuts to public universities and colleges, $29 million in cuts to services for adults with developmental disabilities, and $8.2 million in cuts to the Department of Public Health budget, despite the ongoing pandemic. In total, the proposed HB 793 included the deepest cuts since the worst year of the Great Recession.

While no one can deny the economic recession the pandemic is causing, these drastic cuts were not necessary. The truth is this: rather than work with Democrats to create new sources of revenue, Republicans chose to continue giving away billions in tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax credits to corporate interests. The ten percent, across-the-board cuts to vital state agencies in this budget are being made on the backs of the most vulnerable Georgians, who continue to bear the brunt of the current pandemic.

I stood with my Democratic colleagues to vote against the budget for these reasons. Unfortunately, the budget still passed and will go into effect Wednesday, the first day of fiscal year 2021.

SB 463: Banning Absentee Ballot Requests

In a ridiculously partisan move to suppress voter turnout this November, Republicans attempted to pass SB 463 to ban the Secretary of State and county election boards from sending absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters unsolicited. You’ll remember the Secretary of State did exactly this for the June 9th primary election, and we saw Democratic turnout at an all-time high.

Thankfully, we were able to defeat SB 463 by preventing it from coming up for a vote on the House floor. This was due in large part to many of you who reached out to legislators in the final two days of session to remind them who they work for—thank you!

HB 879: Home Delivery of Beer, Wine, and Spirits

As you no doubt know, some local restaurants have been taking advantage of ordinances in place during the pandemic to sell alcoholic beverages with to-go food orders. This week, the General Assembly passed a measure that would make home delivery of alcoholic beverages possible statewide on a permanent basis. HB 879 was passed by both chambers and is widely supported in the metro-area, although not without its critics. The bill also allows for local cities and counties to place referenda on whether to allow Sunday alcohol sales beginning at 11am.

Before the measure can take final effect, Gov. Kemp will have 40 days to consider a veto.

DEKALB: Ethics Board fix/Referendum

I have been working hard since late last year with my colleagues to pass a “clean fix” to the county’s ethics legislation—one that fixes the portions of the appointment process deemed unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court and makes no other changes that would weaken the effectiveness of the ethics board or ethics officer. After leading the charge on this for over seven months, I am happy to report that both chambers passed HB 1243 on the final day of session.

This legislation makes several changes to the ethics legislation, including:

  • implementing a gift ban for employees of the DeKalb Purchasing and Contracting Department;
  • implementing a recusal process for ethics board members;
  • clarifying the administrative handling of ethics complaints filed with the ethics board; and
  • reconstituting the appointment process for ethics board members, including the implementation of alternates.

Before these changes go into effect, they must be approved by DeKalb voters via referendum in November.

BROOKHAVEN: Charter changes/Referendum on Mayoral Term Limits

Last year, the Brookhaven City Council made several recommendations to the General Assembly for changes to the Brookhaven City Charter. These changes were initially recommended by a citizen-driven charter review commission and were ratified by the City Council through a process of extended public input.

I led the effort to shepherd HB 695 through both chambers, working closely with the five other Representatives and Senators who represent portions of Brookhaven. We expect Gov. Kemp will sign HB 695 into law early this week. Once he does, the following changes will be made:

  • implement the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation that the City Council be able to fill any vacancies in the position of Mayor where less than 12 months remain in the unexpired term (precluding the need for a special election); and
  • implement the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation that the City Council and Mayor be able to fill any vacancies on the Council where less than 12 months remain in the unexpired term (precluding the need for a special election).

The Charter Review Commission also recommended extending the Mayor’s term limits from two terms to three. After receiving public input advocating both for and against this proposal, the City Council ultimately requested that the question of term limits be put on a public referendum this November. Thus, Brookhaven voters will see the following question on their November ballots:

  • Shall the section of the Act be approved which repeals the provision that limits the terms of the mayor of the City of Brookhaven to allow the voters of Brookhaven to choose the mayor of their choice?

Lingering Questions

Although the General Assembly has adjourned Sine Die, the Governor has 40 days to review the bills passed and decide whether to veto any legislation. If he doesn’t, the bills go into effect automatically. Of course, he can sign specific bills into law early if he chooses. Stay tuned!

As we approach July 12, the last day of the current state of emergency declaration, we await word from Gov. Kemp on whether he will renew the state of emergency. As we move closer to the November elections, will Gov. Kemp keep the state of emergency active? If so, will he make any changes to our November elections process? These are questions that remain unanswered for now but to which I am paying close attention.

COVID-19: I’m Still Here to Help

Many of you have reached out to me about various legislative concerns and COVID-related questions. As I work my way through my inbox, please know that if you have an immediate concern, the best way to get in touch with me is to by calling my Capitol office administrative assistant, Allegra Johnson, at 404-656-6372.

I wish you an early safe and happy Fourth of July!
Matthew

P.S.­­—We’ll be officially launching my re-election campaign in the coming weeks, but if you can make a donation now to help our efforts I would greatly appreciate it!