Mary Margaret Oliver
SINE DIE Email Newsletter
June 30, 2020


The 2020 Session ended about 10:15 p.m. Friday, June 26, after a three month "suspension" for COVID-19, the longest Session in history and the weirdest of my long political career.  The budget is always the most important bill we pass, but this year between March 13 when we suspended and Sine Die on June 26, the economic collapse changed every number and line item, and the budget was adjusted frequently. See below for more details.

The House Rules for COVID-19 protections, different from the Senate Rules, changed how we worked, including a House Rule that required wearing of masks that was substantially obeyed. (The Senate did not require masks). We were assigned new seats to assure social distancing, spreading out members on the House floor, in the gallery, and in Room 341, which meant our social interactions with colleagues were different.  I had new seatmates, and the good news is that I made new friends, visiting with members I had not previously known well. The staff and lobbying crowd was reduced by over 75%. THERE WAS NO COFFEE, no lunch or dinner served, which are usually provided by staff or lobbyists, and the only "nutrition" available was M&Ms and donut holes -- unfortunate, especially for some committee leaders, like those of Appropriations and Civil Access to Justice who never stopped meeting. The real threat of COVID-19 infections was always with us, and many of our members are particularly vulnerable.  Between 15 and 25 members were always absent or "excused," so the 91 votes needed for bill passage became more difficult to achieve--which was good and bad depending on the bill. I am glad it is over, and I fear we will learn in the next two weeks who among us became infected with the virus. 
Snapshots from our 11 long  days of intense work. Note the masks required in the House!
New Survey Question: 

Would you have voted for this budget without any attempt to increase revenues regardless of whether that revenue came from tobacco taxes, gaming, or expanded Medicaid funding? What do you think?

Photo credit: Donna Lowry. GPB News is reporting protestors outside the Governor's Mansion asking for Governor Kemp to veto HB 838. Read about it HERE.

View from my COVID-19 assigned Chamber seat.

Budget for Fiscal Year 2021

The Fiscal year '21 budget, HB 793, was the last bill called for a vote Friday night about 10 p.m., ending the most bizarre budget cycle I had ever experienced. When COVID-19 shut down the state's  economy , the Governor called for a 14%, $3 billion-plus across the board cut in the state's $28 billion budget, but by the last days of the 2020 Session, the cut was reduced to 10% -- still painful. 

In my House Appropriations Human Resources Subcommittee, I was following closely the budgets affecting public health, DFACS, and mental health.  When I left the Capitol on Day 39 from my final Appropriations Conference Committee meeting, I was happy that funding for the Emory Autism Center and the Marcus Center was substantially restored, along with $1 million in funding for the Appellate Division of the Georgia Public Defender Council. And the  $19 million for expanded Medicaid for mothers for up to six months after delivery was maintained -- much needed to reduce Georgia's extremely high rate of maternal mortality, especially among black women. Another positive: no state employees will suffer pay cuts via furloughs.  BUT, the cuts throughout the rest of the budget are huge and devastating, including $950 million in education cuts --unacceptable. 

My frustration was the Republican leadership's refusal to increase the tobacco tax up to the national average. I have worked for years on increasing this tax, yet the refusal to consider it, combined with Georgia's failure to accept federal Medicaid money were significant reasons to vote against this budget. The painful cuts would have been unnecessary had we acted more responsibly in the interest of Georgians. So, I voted against the budget, which was the position of the House Democratic Caucus.   For more detail on the budget see the link below.

The budget problems were another  reminder that we are not sufficiently planning for the future, despite current uncertainties. None of us can predict the full or ongoing economic impact of COVID-19. Budget leaders recognize the possibility of a Special Session in the Fall if revenues decrease beyond expectations. We also will review the 2021 budget when we reconvene in January to pass the 2020-21 Supplemental Budget. 

Hate Crimes Victory, Status of Repeal of Citizen's Arrest, and Other Projects

Collage: protestors and public safety officers, Governor and Speaker, committee hearing, assembly for signing hate crimes law.

Georgia finally caught up on hate crimes, something I have worked on for years. Two days before the end of the Session, we passed HB 426 , slightly modified by the Senate. I received many letters from constituents and others encouraging me to vote for this bill, which I supported when it passed the House in 2019. We finally achieved bipartisan support, including from Speaker Ralston. On Friday, we gathered on the Capitol North Wing steps as the Governor signed it into law. 

While passage of HB 426 was a major victory, getting there required painful "sausage making," resulting in HB 838, creating new protections and rights for police and first responders. HB 838 barely passed the House with 92 votes, and it will remain controversial for technical and policy reasons. As you see from the protests outside the Governor's mansion pictured above, there is strong advocacy for Governor Kemp to veto this problematic legislation. 

I wish we had been able to repeal the Citizen's Arrest law, some form of which has been on the books in Georgia since 1863. Since the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, there have been several attempts to revise or repeal the current law. This Session I co-sponsored the bipartisan repeal bill HB 1203, but it never received a hearing.  In November, I will pre-file a bill to repeal that law and deal with related issues. 

Other advances made in criminal justice reform included passage of SB 288  and HB 984. SB 288 amends and broadens the circumstances allowing expungement of certain misdemeanor conviction records. HB 984, a bipartisan bill also known as the "Truth in Sentencing Law," requires among other things that a defendant be given credit for time served rather than leaving that determination to the discretion of a judge.

The good news is that passage of these (especially HB 426) renewed encouragement to move forward on similar issues. I congratulate and give credit to protestors, and I invite protestors to return to the Capitol and continue advocating for improvements to the criminal justice system. They influenced our 2020 reforms, and we need that energy in 2021. 

Press conference for HB 1203 to repeal Citizen's Arrest law. Photo credit: Donna Lowry GPB.
Protestors on horseback visit the Capitol during our unusual Saturday Session on June 20.


Again, the Government Affairs Committee was the location of election reform disputes and tensions from the June 9th voter problems and 2019's  HB 316. Secretary of State (SOS) Raffensperger offered SB 463, which passed the Senate on Cross Over Day March 12 and was assigned to the House Government Affairs Committee. Although it contained one or two positive proposals, it reduced the SOS's responsibility as the chief election officer. Worse, an addition in the House to statutorily prevent the SOS from mailing out applications for Absentee Ballots blew up any real chance for bipartisan proposals that would actually help solve real problems. 

I received hundreds of negative comments against reducing the voters' options to vote absentee. Rep. Bee Nguyen (HD 89) and I prepared multiple amendments that were bipartisan, and yet nothing positive happened -- disappointing.  After initial totally partisan passage in the Committee, the bill never reached the House floor for a vote. 

Protecting Seniors

I co-sponsored bipartisan legislation by Rep. Sharon Cooper (HD 43)   adding new staffing, training, and accountability protections in senior care assisted living, personal care, and nursing homes. 
HB 987  is important to my district, home to many such facilities.  The legislation passed and awaits the Governor's signature.


Ethics: On Day 40, the DeKalb House Delegation finalized a new appointment process for the DeKalb Ethics Board as required by the Georgia Supreme Court, maintaining the independence of the Ethics Officer and Board. Additionally, a ban on gifts to DeKalb employees was included. Progress.  HB 1243

City of Decatur and DeKalb County School systems: Tension and disputes continue to be unresolved between these systems over annexations -- very unfortunate, and the City of Decatur School Board seems (from my outsider view) to be unwilling to reach a fair compromise. Mediation failures and legislation veto threats continue, and the time and effort spent seems to reach no conclusion. Discouraging.

DeKalb County  Monument Removal: I've been very interested in the creative resolution for the controversial Confederate monument that stood for over a century at the DeKalb County Courthouse in downtown Decatur, a block from my law office. DeKalb Judge Clarence Seeliger's order agreeing that the monument had become a public nuisance threatening public safety allowed its safe removal, witnessed live by a peaceful group around 11 p.m. on June 18. I wrote a column about my personal experience practicing law in Georgia courthouses with such monuments, and I had the honor of discussing this issue with DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond and Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale on GPB's Political Rewind. 

Decatur Confederate monument removal. Photo credit: Ann Abramowitz.


Henry with his well-loved yard toy.

As always, I am grateful for your support and for returning me to serve HD 82 next Session. Meanwhile, I will continue to monitor issues of importance and do legislative committee work until we reconvene in January. I wish you well, so stay safe and keep in touch, everyone!

Mary Margaret
Law Office (404) 377-0485
Legislative Office (404) 656-0265
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