Republican Election Package Passes After Robust Debate
For over three hours Monday, with over 1,000 people watching on livestream, the House debated HB 531-- the Republican omnibus bill trying to 'fix' nonexistent voting problems. The idea that we should pass laws to give our voters "more confidence" is predicated on two false premises: that Mr. Trump won in Georgia and the discredited, unproven claim that there was fraud.

Outside, people protesting the bill chanted in Liberty Plaza. Speaker Ralston allowed each party one hour for debate. I was honored to deliver the Minority Report (video below), on which I and Democratic Caucus members worked over the weekend. My intention was to set HB 531 in historical context, as another infringement on voting rights in a state with a long history of such infringements. 

We coordinated our debate to showcase different voices, regions, and issues. The speech by Rep. Angelika Kausche, a German immigrant, reflecting on Germany’s easily accessible voting system, made our struggles seem especially absurd. Rep. Al Williams reminded us of Jim Crow disenfranchisement tactics and actual fraud in his first run for office, as well as his 17 arrests during the Civil Rights Movement. Our Caucus represented the true diversity of Georgia, with African American, Korean American, Vietnamese American, LGBTQ, urban, and rural people, and representatives of all ages and genders. 
House Dem Caucus Prepares for Debate on HB 531 March 1 2021
The House Democratic Caucus prepares for the floor debate.
Protestors against HB 531
Protestors in Liberty Plaza during the HB 531 debate.
Despite all our efforts, the vote carried purely on partisan lines. It now crosses to the Senate for consideration, along with the Senate’s own omnibus voter suppression bill, SB 241 and other smaller bills.

It's not over yet. If you wish to participate further, write and call those in power to voice your concerns about these bills, especially if you have a relevant personal experience.

Other Bills in Progress
As we move toward Crossover Day on Monday, March 8, committees are very active.

HB 66 is my bill to bring greater transparency and more stakeholders into the process for annexing county property into municipalities. After considerable negotiation with many interested groups and legislators, the bill now would require prior notice under the development authority statutes rather than under the bond validation hearing laws. Discussions are continuing in a variety of ways, including the possibility of a study committee, which would be positive in my view.

HB 579 I filed this bill for DeKalb County, relating to the Public Safety and Judicial Facilities Authority Act, to remove the requirement of a referendum to issue new authority bonds. While the law would apply to other counties as well, DeKalb is the one county with a Public Safety and Judicial Facilities Authority at this time. The bill advanced out of the Governmental Affairs Committee today headed to Rules.

HB 660 At the request of Fulton County Superior Court Judge McBurney and Fulton County State Court Judge Tailor and MARTA, I filed this bill to amend the act governing MARTA to allow actions against MARTA to be brought in State Court as well as in Superior Court (already provided for in the Act). It has been assigned to the House Transportation Committee.

HB 272, our ongoing attempt to raise the age of defendants considered juveniles, passed out of the Juvenile Justice Committee. We are waiting to see if the Rules Committee will allow it onto the floor for debate and a vote. If this bill passes, all 17 year olds will be subject to Juvenile Court jurisdiction for all felonies and misdemeanors. Georgia would finally join the 47 other states that already have such a law.

HB 109 Many of you, including survivors, have written to me in support of HB 109, the Childhood Victims Protection Act. I co-sponsor this bill, providing more protection for those who experience childhood sexual abuse and extending the time to bring claims. The bill passed out of subcommittee and now moves to the full Judiciary Committee for a hearing.

HB 647 I support this bill, heard today in committee, addressing closure of surface impoundments holding toxic coal ash, a byproduct from coal fired power plants. It is a step in the right direction, with a period of 50 years of groundwater monitoring after closure and at least one annual inspection. However, I want HB 176 to get a hearing and vote. That bill would require Georgia Power to excavate coal ash from unlined impoundments and remove it to lined facilities, rather than leaving it in place with a cap over the top. Stay tuned.
Your Voice Heard: Poll Results/New Poll

LAST POLL RESULTS: The question was long, so here it is again: HB 290 would require hospitals and nursing homes to allow visits by family and friends even in a declared public health emergency (which means they would not have to comply with CDC procedures or Executive Orders) and exempts those institutions from liability for claims related to such visits. How would you vote?

Of 336 replies, 19.6% would vote YES (allow visits) and 80.4% would vote NO on this bill.

Update: The bill passed out of the House Human Resources and Aging Committee by a vote of 12 to 6 and will move to the Rules Committee. 

NEW QUESTION Rep. Wes Cantrell has brought HB 675, a bill to increase salaries of members of the General Assembly and certain elected state officials. Members of the General Assembly would see an increase from $16,200 to $29,908, as recommended by an independent compensation panel.

The National Conference of State Legislatures keeps track of compensation. You can see a chart HERE. Georgia's salaries are among the lowest in the nation, and the raise would bring Georgia in line with neighboring Florida at $29,697 and Tennessee at $24,316. It would come nowhere near compensation for legislators in New York ($110,000).

In order to serve in the General Assembly, should the salary be so low that only wealthy people can serve? At present, over 50% of members have another full time job, myself included. It is arguable that this low salary favors service by only retired or wealthy people. Would a higher salary encourage service from a broader spectrum of age and economic groups?

What do you think? Take the poll below, and email me if you have comments.

Should General Assembly members receive a pay raise?
March 8 is "CROSSOVER DAY"
The ACLU has a good graphic above to remind you of the process of a bill becoming law. After a bill passes one house, it must "cross over" to the other for passage, and sometimes return with amendments for final passage before it goes to the Governor. Any bill that does not pass in a chamber before Crossover Day effectively dies.

You can search for and track pending bills, watch the House (or Senate) in Session, watch committee hearings, monitor legislation by committee, and find contact information —- all on the revamped General Assembly website. Here are quick links:

COVID-19: Vaccine Information
Beginning March 8, 2021, the following groups will also be eligible for COVID vaccine:

  • Educators and staff (Pre-K, K-12, DECAL licensed or exempt childcare programs)
  • Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers
  • Parents of children with complex medical conditions
Reminder: My Team
Sydney Cleland
Chief of Staff

Sydney practiced law at Alston & Bird and Waste Management, Inc. for ten years, parented two children, and then taught elementary and middle school at Paideia School for thirteen years. Now an empty nester, Sydney and her attorney husband Craig Cleland devote their spare time to Basset Hound Peaches at home in House District 83.
Olivia Sims
Administrative Assistant

Olivia has worked with me for twelve years, following a career with a property and casualty insurance company. She also holds a real estate license. A loving mother and grandmother she is now pet parent to Titan the chihuahua. She lives in House District 113.

I also have a graduate school intern from Emory University's Center for Ethics, Jacob Yudin. Jacob is watching hearings and helping with social media. Welcome, Jacob!
"Out and About"
On February 23, our DeKalb Delegation held a Zoom Town Hall on Protecting Your Voting Rights with many participants, some pictured below. Policy Director Vasu Abhiraman of ACLU Georgia gave a detailed presentation on the barriers to voting created by HB 531.

Monday night, Senator Parent, Rep. Evans, and I held a Town Hall for our districts by Zoom. 10o of you joined us and again brought good questions. If you missed the meeting and want to watch it, go HERE and enter Passcode: 1wwc%Jxb.

Coming Up: I will again join Bill Nigut and other guests on Political Rewind GPB 88.5 FM on Thursday, March 4. Please tune in at 9 a.m. or 2 p.m.

DeKalb Delegation Zoom
Please Be in Touch

As always, I am here to serve you and want to hear from you. Contact me or my staff with any questions or concerns.

Coverdell Legislative Office Building
18 Capitol Square, Suite 604
Atlanta, GA  30334