Today five Asian American members of the General Assembly are meeting with President Biden and Vice President Harris at Emory University to discuss the tragic deaths of Asian Americans in the mass shooting this week. Georgia again is in the national spotlight--this time for sad reasons. I am proud of Representatives Bee Nguyen (above at podium), Sam Park, and Marvin Lim, and Senators Sheikh Rahman and Michelle Au and how they have spoken out on the national news circuits on this important issue.

The House voted 96 to 69 on straight party lines yesterday to pass SB 221, a bill that pours more money into politics. The bill would allow the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislative leadership of both parties to raise money for themselves and their preferred candidates, creating a new funding option in addition to individual campaigns, party PACs, and other dark money sources already increasing the impact of money on politics. It also would allow solicitation of funds while the Legislature is in session--lobbyists could make contributions while bills are under consideration. If the Governor signs it, the Legislature and the people of Georgia will further hand elections to the highest bidder. Rep. Matt Wilson dubbed SB 221 "The Gold Dome Swamp Bill", and he's right.

In the past, there have been attempts to limit money in politics, but in the last twenty years we have built a funding superhighway, including with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC, which declared corporate entities to be people for purposes of campaign contributions.

I rose to put a parliamentary inquiry directly to Speaker Ralston: Isn't it true that this bill only continues the twenty year trend of increasing money in politics?

The bill now goes to the Governor for signature into law. Please help stop this further degradation of the political process. Ask Gov. Kemp to veto this legislation. Office of the Governor: 404-656-1776.

Voter Suppression Bills Still in Play
As I reported last time, HB 531, the House omnibus voting bill passed, purely on partisan lines. It is in the Senate for consideration. The Senate’s own omnibus voter suppression bill, SB 241 is in the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, along with other smaller bills.

But in further bad election bill news this week, Rep. Barry Fleming, Chair of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, added 91 pages to the two page SB 202 mere hours before a scheduled hearing on the bill. The bill was heard in committee on Thursday but no vote yet taken. I anticipate a vote Monday but do not know how it will go. It is difficult to predict before we know the final content of the bill. AJC on SB 202

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., there was some hope. Our new U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock made his debut as a freshman with a pitch-perfect speech on the need and reason for further federal legislation to protect the right to vote. He received a standing ovation.Well worth your time to watch in its entirety.

A respected long-time lobbyist said this week we are now at the stage of "chaos in search of frenzy." What have we done? I have reported earlier on bills of importance to me and to House District 82. The AJC tracks bill passage HERE.

And what is left to do? The two most important things are to reconcile the election bills and pass a budget. Both will morph to versions hammered out in a conference committee of 3 Representatives and 3 Senators, all Republicans. The voting bills are discussed above.

The budget HB 81 has been in the Senate since March 5 and has not yet gone to the conference committee, where it must be finalized before returning to the House. Highlights are at House Budget and Research Office.

Other bills of interest to you:
HB 86 Sports Betting has yet to pass the House but is scheduled for the floor on Monday, March 22.
SB 100 Permanent Standard Time has been in House committee since February 26, so I doubt it will come to the floor. If it does, I will vote NO. See the poll results below.

I am participating directly in the progress of several other bills and trying to watch all the variations closely. I'll report more as things develop next week.
Your Voice Heard: Poll Results
LAST POLL RESULTS: Should we switch to year-round Daylight Saving Time? 58.7% said YES and 41.3% said NO. I voted yes on HB 44 in favor of year-round Daylight Saving Time.

Someone wrote to ask why we did not give an option to vote for year round Standard Time, but we put to you the question on the House bill. A few of you wrote to advocate that either way the decision should be year round so we don't have to change the time seasonally. Many good thoughts. We'll see if the Legislature passes one or the other this year.

The American Rescue Plan Act and other efforts by the Biden Administration have put on hold Governor Kemp's signature Medicaid waiver plan, known as Georgia Pathways. Kemp's plan fell far short of covering the half million Georgians who need medical coverage and added a controversial work requirement for qualifying. (1)

Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the twelve states like Georgia who have left on the table billions of federal dollars by refusing to draw down the federal Medicaid money available under the ACA would have incentives to participate in Medicaid Expansion:

In addition to the 90% federal matching funds available under the ACA for the expansion population, states also can receive a 5 percentage point increase in their regular federal matching rate for 2 years after expansion takes effect. The additional incentive applies whenever a state newly expands Medicaid and does not expire. The new incentive is available to the 12 states that have not yet adopted the expansion as well as Missouri and Oklahoma, which are expected to implement expansion in July 2021. The increase in the regular matching rate is estimated to more than offset the increased state costs of expansion in these states for the first two years. (2)

Also of great significance to Georgia is a provision for coverage for post-partum women. In Georgia, the maternal mortality rate is the second-highest in the nation and more than twice the national rate, and black and rural women are disproportionally affected. (3)

States have a new option to extend Medicaid coverage for post-partum women from the current 60 days to a full year. States that elect this option must provide full state plan benefits throughout the enrollee’s pregnancy and post-partum period and cannot limit benefits to only those that are “pregnancy related.” The new option is available to states for 5 years, beginning April 1, 2022. (2)

I have long advocated for our participation in Medicaid Expansion. (4) In the floor debate on the FY 2022 budget, House Minority Leader Beverly offered an amendment to include full expansion, which failed but made the point. This is not over, and I will continue to press for our use of Medicaid money to help everyone in this state get adequate affordable healthcare.

This was a busy week, including welcoming some visitors to the Capitol.
Above: Rep. Zulma Lopez speaks against the voter suppression bills at a press conference with the combined DeKalb Delegation and DeKalb Democrats at the Capitol.
Above: In a special Joint Session, the General Assembly welcomed retiring Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton and Presiding Justice David Nahmias. This was Chief Justice Melton's third and final address and included mention of the Georgia jurists lost to Covid-19 this year, including several probate judges and former Supreme Court Justice George Carley.

Below: The Dean of the House, Rep. Calvin Smyre, spoke in favor of a statue of former Gov. Zell Miller on the Capitol grounds. Rep. Smyre worked for and remained friends with Gov. Miller, architect of the HOPE Lottery and whom Smyre called "one of the most consequential governors in the history of our state."
Above: On the Capitol steps with Rep. Lopez and John Jackson, Chair, DeKalb County Democrats
Above: Chief Justice Melton emphasized the need to process the heavy backlog of criminal cases pending in state courts due to suspension of court during Covid-19. The House passed SB 163 to begin to address this problem, and I am working on a budget proposal using American Rescue Plan money to address the backlog.
Above: The House Women's Legislative Caucus celebrated the annual Nikki T. Randall Servant Leadership Awards Day in which we honor women leaders from our Districts. This year's ceremony was virtual, but Representatives present in the House gathered for this photograph.
Georgia Public Broadcasting has just released a video about the people of Juliette, Georgia and their fight for drinking water that is free of coal ash contamination from the unlined holding ponds at Georgia Power's nearby Plant Scherer. My colleagues Rep. Debbie Buckner, Rep. Mary Frances Williams and I will not give up this fight to dispose of coal ash as safely as we dispose of household garbage. Last year and this year, we have introduced bills to require disposal of coal ash in lined facilities, but the bills have never received a hearing. Disclosure: I serve on the Board of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, and its Executive Director Fletcher Sams is featured in this story.

For more on the coal ash problem in Georgia:
Quick Links for You

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:

Make your views known. Write to the leaders:

Bright spots: My Japanese Magnolia in full bloom. Henry and his friend Peaches both turn 5 this week. Birthday party delayed until after Sine Die. They won't notice, will they?
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