Mary Margaret Oliver
Email Newsletter
 
March 13, 2020
 
CROSSOVER WEEK!  
Congrats to Ed McBrayer for his 29 years of service, and Happy Anniversary to the Path Foundation!

All Saints' and St. Luke's Episcopal Church parishioners visited the Capitol last week. 

Crossover Week per usual is a rushed affair. We had many bills shuttle through the committees, including the FY 2021 Budget. That discussion began on Monday, March 9th, at 7 in the morning and was on the House Floor for a vote by Tuesday, March 10th, at 11 am. Another bill fast-tracked bill was the Governor's Income Tax Cut, which supposedly gives $800 million back to you, the citizens. More later on these two issues, but issues and priorities change hourly at this time of the Session. We finished Crossover Day at midnight last night --- a marathon of work.



Speaking of hourly changes, the Democratic Caucus voted Thursday morning that because of the Coronavirus the 2020 General Assembly should adjourn. During Crossover Day, the Speaker announced that we would finish out day 28, but that he and the Lt. Governor had agreed that the   House and Senate would be suspended indefinitely. He asked members to go home and to take care of themselves and their loved ones.  Earlier in the week, Speaker Ralston suspended the Page Program and the guests that members, Chaplains, and Doctors of the Day can bring onto the Floor. The Gallery to the House is still open for guests to come and watch the show when we return to work.  There are only guesses as to when we will reconvene, and the timing will depend on the impact and spread of the virus.  Very scary, and members' conversations were much about home and whether we would be bringing the virus back to vulnerable elderly relatives and babies.  There was strong bipartisan agreement to temporarily end our Capitol work and go home.


Earlier this month I qualified to seek re-election to serve HD 82 for the 2021-2022 Session, and I am very grateful that no one posted to run against me. Thank you for your messages of support on Facebook. Running for and serving in any political office is a humbling experience. On a daily basis, you tell me about your needs and goals for your family and state, and I try and will continue to try to help.  Thank you for the opportunity -- I am grateful.
New Survey Question

Please answer our new issue based survey HERE.

Should e-cigarettes and vaping products be taxed at the same rate as regular cigarettes?

Yes
No
Option for comment


Previous Survey Results
 
Thank you for responding to my last survey question. We have reordered the issues based on what respondents said was most important to least. Here are the results:

On the survey, you ranked the following issues from most to least important to you, with 1 being most important and 5 being least important. As always, there was a place for an optional comment.

- Increasing protections for seniors in assisted living facilities*
- Lining coal ash ponds to protect ground water*
- Raising the age for juveniles to be tried as adults from 17 to 18
- Raising the Cigarette Tax to $1
- Keeping the high school dual enrollment program the same

* tied as most important



Written responses included*:

GA Power should follow the same rules that our municipalities must when dumping our household trash...they have run roughshod over Georgians for far too long.

Too bad they can't all be #1.

Raising the tax on tobacco products would help solve some of the budget problems, in addition to preventing people from taking up smoking and incentivizing current smokers to quit. Raise the tax $2 and Georgia will still have the cheapest cigarettes in the nation. This legislation is a win-win, please do support it!

Of these issues, protection of seniors in assisted living is the most critical, ranking up with the need for quality care for veterans who have served the nation in foreign countries! Also, the environmental protection of groundwater is an issue that no elected official -- nor any citizen for that matter -- should not be deeply concerned about!

Raising the age of juveniles to be tried as adults is a bad idea. Adult crimes call for adult punishment.

*The responses reported were chosen by staff as exemplifying common themes from all points of view.


Dr. Stephen Holbrook was the Doctor of the Day on March 2, 2020.
Income Tax Cut

The Governor's Income Tax Cut,  HB 949 , fundamentally changes the income tax structure. It cuts the income tax from 5.75% to 5.375% and removes the graduated tax rate system , creating a flat tax. This means that no matter how much you earn, you are being taxed at that level. For example, people who earn $38,000 a year will be taxed at the same percentage as people who earn $108,000 per year, which means 42% of the highest income earners benefit from the flat tax. What we learned from the first budget week was that the 0.25% cut made in 2018 equalled about $500 million. This cut would roughly equal $800 million in lost state revenue. When it came to the Floor of the House, I was one of the 68 who voted against the measure. Unfortunately, it passed with 100 votes in favor.


Vaping Bill

Currently, the Georgia House is looking at taxing vaping products. The bill, HB 864 sponsored by Representative Bonnie Rich (R - Suwanee), was tailored to create parity between vaping products and cigarettes. Vapes and similar products do not have an excise tax, but under Rep. Rich's bill, these products would be taxed at the 7% excise tax, which creates a parity with cigarettes. When this bill shuttled through the committee process, Rep. Harrell (R - Snellville) added a provision that if products were deemed a "modified risk tobacco product" they should be taxed at half the amount, which is 3.75%. Modified risk tobacco products are defined as a product ordered by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and currently include some products created by Juul (a company that makes vapes). The bill passed by substitute through Rules. The House voted on the bill at 9 pm on Crossover. It had 70 votes in favor with 89 votes opposed. The measure failed. We voted on a motion to reconsider; that passed. Then the bill was motioned to be put on the table to be brought up again, which passed. In conclusion, the measure did not pass the House to go to the Senate. It will be brought up again at the discretion of the Speaker. I was more than annoyed that the tobacco lobby was able to reduce the tax that should have been on the products from the beginning of their sales, and I voted NO in hopes of passing a tax on vapes that does not assume tobacco is only "moderately" dangerous. I'm very sure in the remaining 11 days this issue will be revisited.


Committee hearings were full leading up to Crossover Day,  March 12th. During this Governmental Affairs meeting, HB 955 passed the Committee, but in a much weaker version than as introduced. The bill would have made it a felony for any person to intentionally abuse, neglect, or exploit a disabled or elderly adult and increased  the crime of failure to report such abuse to a high and aggravated misdemeanor. The most controversial provisions that certain nursing home deaths be reported to the coroner were eliminated based on pressure from the nursing home lobbyists.  I am a cosponsor of HB 955, and very disappointed that the coroner bill might be dead for the 2020 Session.

Budget FY 2021

The FY2021 Budget, HB 793, passed out of the House this week with 134 yes votes to 35 no votes. Here are some key takeaways: 
  • Maternal Medicaid Coverage increased to 6 months (from 2 months). This expansion of coverage for new mothers is a significant response to the terrible statistics of maternal deaths in Georgia, but it does not replace funds that would be available through ACA Medicaid overall expansion.
  • $2.5 million increase in funds to private prisons based on existing contract obligations.
  • Zero dollars allocated for COVID-19. In the 2020 Amended Budget, which passed on Crossover, the Governor has proposed $100 million to be appropriated from the Rainy Day Fund for Coronavirus.
  • Teacher pay raise reduced from $2,000 to $1,000.
  • State employee pay raise of $1,000 will go to employees in high turnover positions rather than everyone earning $40,000 and under. The targeted increase represents 11% of the state's workforce in the Departments of Agriculture, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Corrections, Driver Service, Human Services, Veterans Services, and Juvenile Justice.
As you know, I serve on the Appropriations Human Services Subcommittee. These are a few of the items we added to the budget.
  • Adds $10.8 million for crisis beds and behavioral health services.
  • Adds $1.5 million in the residential capacity for the treatment of addiction, increasing the bed count by 44 statewide.
  • Restores $750,000 to the Marcus Autism Center in my district.
  • Restores nearly $3 million for two crisis respite homes, serving an additional 32 children.
Additional Links:

Crossover Day changed hour by hour. I was appointed by the Speaker to the Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System. We met at 7:30 and then again at lunch. We passed 2 bills out: HB 1121 on sexual harassment and HB 479 on hidden predators.

HB 1121: Sexual Harassment

Sometimes we are grateful for the forward movement of the good rather than the perfect. Today was one of those times. HB 1121 sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R - Dacula) would give victims of sexual harassment the right to sue individuals or employers under state law. Currently, these actions can only be brought under federal law. Many of you contacted me about 1121, which I supported. It was good bi-partisan legislation, and Georgia would join the 47 other states that have such a law. 

However, in the Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System, a substitute bill was presented that struck the right to sue employers, leaving victims recourse only against individuals.  I am on that committee, which had one hearing on the bill the day before. When the substitute bill came to a vote, I told the committee it was an insufficient step. But a step it was, so I voted for the substitute bill, which passed out of the committee, and planned on restoring stronger provisions in the Senate as the bill moved to the other Chamber.  However,  HB 1121 was not called to the Floor for a vote on Crossover yesterday, and Representative Efstration and I wlll be looking for vehicles to add 1121 to another moving bill.  We have not quit trying.

As the only woman committee member present, I was reminded of my recent remarks on Political Rewind about the female candidates in the national Democratic primary.  When will we accept female politicians as readily as we do male?  LINK to AJC Opinion: Womens' History Month and Democratic angst over Raphael Warnock  

HB 479: Hidden Predator Bill

Many of you have written me sharing heart-rending personal stories of childhood sexual trauma. I'm proud to say you have more legal recourse. HB 479 extends to four years the statute of limitations for civil actions by victims of childhood sexual abuse. The bill also allows certain civil actions by victims between 23 and 38 years old. People whose claims have been time-barred by the existing statute will have another year after July 1, 2020, to bring claims. In certain circumstances, claims can be made against public entities, and the bill expressly waives sovereign and government immunity in such cases.   The victim-friendly bill passed the House 147 to 5 shortly after midnight, the last bill passed by either the House of Senate on Crossover Day, and Georgia is making progress. I personally thanked the Speaker for calling 479 for a vote before he left the floor---very tense end of the day, but success! 

HB 756: Coal Ash

Although we were promised a subcommittee hearing on this bill I cosponsored, Chair Lynn Smith (R - Newnan) did not schedule or assign the bill to subcommittee; therefore, it was not taken up. Three Republican-sponsored bills regarding coal ash passed the House: HB 93 (community notice), HB 929 (long-term monitoring), and HB 959 (increased landfill fees for coal ash).  I remain hopeful the measures that are moving will expand to include parts of HB 756.

Juvenile Justice: Raise the Age and Shackling

House Bill 440  has passed out of committee but did not make it through Rules. I had hoped this bill would move to the floor for a vote, but I am optimistic about the opportunity to see it added to another bill. Below, I have attached the same video link from the previous newsletter in case you missed it.

Updated CFYJ WhiteBoard Video - Youth Justice Action Month 2018
Updated CFYJ WhiteBoard Video - Youth Justice Action Month 2018

We celebrated the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and their 20th Anniversary. 
What's Happening?

We had a good crowd and detailed discussion at the Voting Machine Demo & Legislative Update last week at the McConnell Senior Citizen Center. Thank you to all who came and participated. Whether you vote early, or  by absentee ballot, or in person, please do vote on the March 24th Presidential Primary!

While I want to see everyone at every event, I suggest we follow CDC and WHO suggestions of social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by reducing contact. If you do have to attend an event, please cough or sneeze into your elbow, use hand sanitizer, refrain from touching your face, and wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. 

Moms Demand Action lobbied on gun laws and reform.
Contact and Thanks
 
As always, please contact me at any time with your questions or comments. Visit my website at the link below and follow me on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the links. 

Thank you for emailing me with your opinions and concerns about pending legislation. I have been receiving many emails about different measures the House has taken up this session, including bills regarding senior care, hidden predators, coal ash, sexual harassment, NOW/COMP Medicaid Waivers, creosote/railroad ties, Rep. Erhart's LGBTQ medical, net neutrality, cityhood proposals in and outside of my district, and much more. Thank you again!

Please contact me or my staff members, Sydney Cleland or Olivia Buckner, if you have any questions about what is happening under the Gold Dome. 

I am honored to work with you in the Georgia General Assembly again this year.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST!
 

Mary Margaret

mmo@mmolaw.com
Law Office (404) 377-0485
Legislative Office (404) 656-0265
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