A NEW DAY!
Our first ever female Vice-President, Kamala Harris, taking her oath.
A new day in our country Wednesday with the peaceful transition of power to President Joe Biden
Historic and hopeful, as Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman reminded us!
MARTOC CHAIR AND OTHER COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS
 This Session, I have an exciting new committee assignment. The Speaker has appointed me Chair of the MARTOC committee, a committee created by statute which provides legislative oversight for MARTA. A committee chaired by a Democrat when the Republicans control the House has never happened, nor did Democrat Tom Murphy ever appoint a Republican Chair, so David Ralston made history this week and created a more bipartisan House. Thank you. The economic history of Georgia is about transportation— first rivers, then railroads, airports, and interstates. Our future will be tied to transit for more of our state, and I am happy to be part of the discussion.

 I also look forward to returning as a member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources, Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System, as well as the Governmental Affairs, Juvenile Justice, Judiciary, and Science and Technology committees.

In addition, I still serve as a member of the Governor's Commission on Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. We met several times during the last Session and once since, resulting in a report before the Governor now. Many of you have written me with concerns related to this Commission's work, and I support all you are doing to get needed care for your families. Look for more on this in the next few weeks.

New Budget Update
All week, the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee has been meeting to hear budget requests from state departments. Governor Kemp presented his budget on Tuesday morning, highlighting the health of Georgia’s economy despite the pandemic and outlining his priorities for education, infrastructure, rural development (including broadband), and public health. Revenue was higher than projected, and the $100 million borrowed from the rainy day reserve fund has been restored. The State economist said the economy is recovering and tax revenues are stable based in part on the infusion of federal CARES money. His opinion was rosier than I anticipated. State Economist Forecast

 There is still confusion about the use of some funds from the Covid CARES Act. Georgia cut its budget by over 2 billion in June, but three federal packages sent around 1 billion to the state for Covid relief. Of that, the Governor has withheld $465 million to anticipate additional possible gaps, most likely in the unemployment insurance trust fund. The proposed budget does not include additional cuts, but neither does it totally restore all funds cut from last year’s original budget, except for some K-12 funds. We also are waiting for the Biden Administration and Congress to agree on a new stimulus package, which will affect our budget plans. 

 In good news, the Governor’s budget includes a 10% pay raise for employees of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice departments and a $1000 bonus to teachers. The turnover rate for Corrections and Juvenile Justice demands that salaries be increased to compete with other law enforcement entities.

Read the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute Report


COVID-19 VACCINE ISSUES
Frustration is high about the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, with technology problems and vaccine availability in some but not all locations. I hear you. 

 I have had success getting answers to some of your questions and action in one case: constituents with an adult daughter living in a group home wrote to ask why the group home residents and staff there and at its sister facility had not been vaccinated in Phase 1A. My Chief of Staff, Sydney Cleland, contacted the Government Relations Director at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). Upon review of the two facilities involved, DPH confirmed that they are Long Term Care Facilities included in Phase 1A. DPH officials contacted the group home director, and 200 vaccines were administered to residents and staff. Please continue to reach out if you think I might help.
 
 As you know, the rollout situation changes daily, which adds to frustration. But Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health offered some information to the Appropriations Committee this week, and we continue to get updates from her office.

  1. The federal government allocates vaccine supply based on reports of vaccines actually given. (And there is a lag in the reporting system, which is why you might see conflicting numbers. The most accurate numbers are on the DPH website.)
  2. Of the 900 thousand vaccines delivered so far, about half have been administered. The other half is already “spoken for” in appointments made. DPH is exploring using these for first rather than second doses. Some counties have appointments booked through March, which is why you cannot access the appointment system.
  3. The current demand for vaccine far exceeds the number of vaccines available. DPH tries to schedule appointments for the Phase 1A population as vaccine arrives at public health sites around the state.
  4. As more vaccine arrives, more appointments will become available. DPH will expand the list of private providers as they bring more on board. Many hospitals and large healthcare providers have vaccine available for their existing patients - and are conducting proactive outreach to those that qualify. Additionally, several retail chain pharmacies have recently been brought on board throughout the state.
  5. DPH is working with Microsoft on a statewide scheduling software to replace county appointment sites. They expect this to be up soon.
  6. We are still in PHASE 1A of a three-phase vaccine delivery. DPH cannot yet expand to future phases due to the overwhelming demand in this phase. As they get more supply and more vaccines administered, they will explore expanding into other phases. 

With the change in federal administration, we may see a larger federally managed inoculation program. Until then, stay safe by wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands.

State Covid-19 Line (information only): 888-357-0169
To get text alerts on GA Covid response: Text COVIDGAHCP to 77297 
DeKalb COVID-19 Line (information only): 404-294-3700
LEGISLATION MOVES TO COMMITTEE
My bills giving local school systems a voice in annexations and tax abatement have been assigned to the House Governmental Affairs Committee, where I look forward to them receiving a hearing. I am speaking to the Georgia Municipal Association and other interested parties next week, and working on a newspaper column to further explain the bills.
Read the Press Release HERE.
Read HB-23 HERE ; HB-24 HERE; and HB-66 HERE.
Read an AJC news article HERE

SCENES FROM THE WEEK
Thank you for your concern about my safety at the Capitol. As you can see, Rep. Teri Anulewicz and I felt better knowing that people like Jake were there to protect us. Business went on as usual with our swearing in on Day 1.







New Rep. Zulma Lopez with her husband, DeKalb State Court Judge and my fellow Vanderbilt graduate Dax Lopez.
Who is this? She introduced our new Vice President on Wednesday night. Hint: Another "first"!
SURVEY SAID...and NEW SURVEY

Last time, I asked for ideas for survey questions. You answered with some interesting questions to ask, especially about elections. There will be much discussion about the use of absentee ballots, so my new question is:

Should "no excuse" absentee ballots be eliminated?
Yes
No
ON A PERSONAL NOTE...
Many of you have asked about or expressed concern for my safety during the pandemic--thank you. I have been very fortunate, remaining well despite frequent exposures to infected colleagues from both the Capitol and my office building in Decatur, where only a handful of people are working. Access to the courts is very limited, so my litigation practice has slowed, but the Georgia Supreme Court’s emergency rules for lawyers have been reasonable. Three Georgia Probate judges and one Superior Court Judge have died from Covid, and countless others have been infected but survive. Despite the slowdown, I am grateful I have been able to keep working for my clients and paying staff. Unlike most Georgians, I have not suffered financially from the pandemic—and I am not facing the food insecurity, lack of healthcare, eviction or foreclosure suffered by so many Georgians. I have not had to worry or panic from the reality of fragile relatives being isolated long term care facilities or hospitals nor have I had the challenge of working while managing home schooling children. I have been lucky.

 When we returned to the Capitol in June to finish the 2020 Session, there were efforts to keep officials and staffs safe, and now as we convene for the 2021 Session, the Covid rules are more strict, with twice weekly testing, and compliance is better. Although exact numbers are not known, I am guessing over 25% of my House and Senate colleagues have been infected, but we have experienced no deaths, thank God, unlike the 11,000+ Georgians who have lost their lives to Covid. Still, noncompliance at the Capitol is infuriating—masks are “encouraged” in some places in the Capitol but not required—also infuriating because we know masks are the first line of defense against virus transmission, as Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and countless medical experts repeatedly remind us. As someone over 65, I have received the first dose of the vaccine. I know many of you are waiting and frustrated about not getting your vaccine yet. I hope all of you will be vaccinated soon as the vaccine distribution gets better. I am thankful that I can serve you with more confidence about safety.

 Like some of you, I have had a few gifts during the pandemic. I have enjoyed more rest and more relaxed time at home and outdoors. With time at home, I have taken on household projects: painting the shutters and most of the house interior, reupholstering furniture, installing new carpet on the stairs, and cleaning out the gutters, garage and closets. I have read more books and planted paperwhites, but sadly I have not exercised more. With the move to virtual meetings, I upgraded computers at the office and at home and, like most of you, learned new technology skills to use Zoom, WebEx, and video conferencing for depositions and court appearances. Progress on all these tasks has helped me feel productive. I hope you have found even small comforts in the time at home. 

Be well, and stay in touch.
Paperwhites and Amaryllis.
Henry enjoys the down time.
Mary Margaret
Law Office (404) 377-0485
Legislative Office (404) 656-0265

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