2016 REVIEW AND MUSINGS
The 2016 Session was an election year production, with theater, drama, and not-so-amusing performances. And although some very good things happened, and the worst of the bad ideas did not succeed, too much of our time was spent on alleged "religious liberty" issues, guns everywhere proposals, and anti-immigrant messages. In reviewing our successes and failures, I am reminded that elections matter, and I ask for your vote in the Democratic primary election to be held May 24.
HB 757 Religious Liberty--Thank you again Governor Deal for vetoing HB 757, avoiding huge economic damage and moving us forward in many of our competitions with other states. Throughout my political career, we have compared Georgia to North Carolina in education, health care, regional planning, tax policy and human service delivery models, and in many other ways. These comparisons, in the public and the back room, have been relevant and provocative, but the HB 757 veto and North Carolina's focus on bathroom law, results in a new playing field. We now have a big advantage, to say the least. Our advantages over Mississippi are not worth as much note, but also helpful.
GOOD NEWS -- RAPE KITS, FOSTER TEENS DRIVERS LICENSEES
Our annual competition with the Senate resulted in a victory for rape victims and advocates, the House, and Representative Scott Holcomb and all his co-sponsors (I am one!) in final passage of the Rape Kit bill in the final minutes of the Session near midnight. Rape kits, containing critical DNA evidence taken from victims, will no longer be left on the shelves for years without being tested. Thank you, Scott, for never quitting, Speaker Ralston for his bipartisan support for the bill, and all the others who never gave up fighting for passage over an irrational blockage by Senator Unterman.
I introduced HB 974 to remove a bureaucratic maze for eligible foster care teenagers to apply for drivers' licenses. Through negotiations with the Division of Drivers Services, and Representative Kevin Tanner, we have rule making change in process that will fix the problem more quickly than legislation. Victory! The Empowerment Group's (older foster care teens group) lobbying for themselves was critical to the success---good job!
The annual Budget is the most important bill passed every year, and the only legislation that must be passed. For the first time since 2007, our revenues exceed pre-recession numbers although there are still many deficits that have not been refilled. Education austerity cuts remain relevant, and over a dozen school districts still have furlough days. The budget restored $300 million in education cuts and passes on to local districts money for a 3% raise for all employees to be decided and implemented by local districts. We anticipate next year there will be further appropriations for austerity cuts, but the painful holes for schools still exist in the budget. For human services needs, new caseworker positions are funded for child abuse cases, the waiting lists for developmentally disabled adults are reduced, CASA and Meals on Wheels receive new money. The House opposition to the Senate's wish for a $10 million investment fund for new IT businesses was resolved based on negotiations over more detailed oversight. I am nervous about this funding, and it will be watched closely, and I invite my Georgia Tech friends to offer their thoughts on this budget item. The budget offers real gains to those in need, and I appreciate the detailed work of budget leaders and my friends on the Human Services subcommittee where I serve.
I hope I am wrong, but I predict the Governor will sign HB 859, the campus carry and more guns more places bill. Although the Governor was critical of specific provisions of HB 859 towards the end of the Session, I guess that he will announce he will address corrections to the bill in the 2017 Session. Again, I ask him to VETO HB 859, and stay fast against any provision that allows guns on state college campuses.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND REAL, NOT IMAGINARY, CHURCH POLITICS
Positive provisions were added by criminal justice reform proposals to assist offenders to get work and support themselves and their families. As a budget note, because criminal justice reform has resulted in no state prisoners being held any longer in county jails awaiting transfers, the state correction budget benefited from over $20 million in savings.
A real church issue emerged in the House Judiciary committee in SB 345, and although this bill got little press attention, I spent time and energy in the last week of the Session alerting denominations and working on advocacy strategies to slow this bill. Among particularly the "hierarchical" churches, such as Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Greek Orthodox and Presbyterian, when church congregations divide or splinter, there has been complex litigation on who owns the remaining real property. In my view, SB 345 attempted to shift the State Supreme Court decisions to favor the parishioners leaving the church, instead of those remaining--an over simplification, but an important issue to many. Thankfully, this bill did not move forward. This debate is typical of some of the bills that do not get enough attention and deserve critical debate. The Judiciary Committee, more than most, allows these debates, and I am grateful for my seat there.
CITYHOOD AND ANNEXATION
This year, voters in the proposed boundaries of two new cities will get to vote on Stonecrest in DeKalb and South Fulton in Fulton, and I have no prediction on the outcome. Greenhaven did not receive a vote in the House Governmental Affairs Committee. More importantly to me, none of the reform proposals for new cities, offered by Senators Gooch and Parent, that included pension legacy reform and parts of HB 711 that I sponsored, and other critical improvements on financial readiness and procedures were allowed a vote in Governmental Affairs Committee. Very unfortunate, and no decent reason why not.
THANK YOU TO ALL THE PAGES AND VOLUNTEERS WHO HELPED ME SERVE HOUSE DISTRICT 82 THIS YEAR! PARTICULARLY, I THANK MY CHIEF OF STAFF, CARROLL STERNE, AIDES CHRISTIAN RUSSELL, REEMON SILVERMAN, KELSEY DREWRY, AND OFFICE STATE STAFF, OLIVIA SIMS AND BARBARA COLEMAN--GREAT TEAM EFFORT!!!
Please contact me anytime with your questions or comments and visit our website at the link below and follow me on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the links below. If re-elected. I look forward to working with you during the 2017 Georgia General Assembly, and I need your help and your support!! In the meantime, I will continue to report on issues that may interest you, and welcome your suggestions on how this newsletter may better serve you.
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