The high point of my Day 40 was the signing ceremony and celebration for the unanimous bipartisan Mental Health Parity Act, HB 1013, on which many labored for over two years. A victory for Georgians! My constituent, Dot Keith, is pictured above dressed for the celebration.
My questions for the 2022 Session--

What did we achieve? Where might we have done a better job? What mistakes did we make? How much time did we take or waste messaging for campaigns, bashing the Biden administration, or making laws that pretend to give people rights they either already have or that give away rights they do have?

How would you answer those questions?

I am most happy with the Mental Health Parity Act because this will truly help people. I am proud I voted NO on every piece of legislation that would limit teachers’ ability to teach.

I’m most disappointed that we failed to authorize a distribution system to get medical cannabis to those who need it, and I am embarrassed we did not get it done because many families have waited too long to legally fill medical marijuana prescriptions. This failure is our biggest and most visible mistake of 2022.



HB 1464 and SB 89 - These bills included provisions about unsealing paper ballots, establishing strict ballot handling chain of custody rules, and prohibiting nonprofits from contributing funds to support the election process in counties. In the end, these failed after public testimony from elections supervisors that the provisions would be onerous for them. (SB 441 did pass. See below.)

SB 142 and SR 135 Sports Betting - Every year, there are gambling and gaming bills that survive until the eleventh hour. This year SB 142, “the sports betting lottery” bill, died in the Senate, while SR 135 authorizing sports betting hung on until the last minute of Day 40, when it was gutted and replaced by a bill to lower ad valorem taxes on timber pending voter ratification. There was no appetite to tackle these issues this year, despite hard lobbying for it and some possible good uses of the money. I voted YES to the timber tax bill.

HB 1425 Medical Cannabis - Several years ago, we established a licensing framework for medical cannabis growers and distributors. So far, the licensing has not become reality and is tied up in litigation and administrative confusion. A bill meant to fix the situation, but which only further complicated it, ultimately failed this Session. I voted NO due to last minute changes that raised constitutional legal questions. As I said above, an embarrassment.

SB 456 Abortion Pills - Thankfully, this bill did not come to the House floor after passing the Senate and a House committee. It would have further restricted women’s health care by preventing access to abortion medication by mail.

SB 504 Cash Bail - This bill would have expanded the cash bail requirement for felonies—from about 25 crimes to over 600. Judges already have discretion to impose cash bail, so the bill would remove judicial discretion in favor of a mandatory requirement. After passage in the Senate and a House committee, the bill was scheduled for a House vote, but it did not come to the floor.

HR 842 Legislative Raise - This would have established a salary for Senators and Representatives equal to 60% of state median household income. If passed, our salaries would nearly double, from around $17,000 to over $30,000. I voted NO on the bill in the House, and the Senate substitute did not come back to the House floor.

HB 1301 Gasoline Leaf Blowers - This bill would have prevented local government regulation of gasoline powered leaf blowers. It got attached as an amendment to HB 1382, which did not come out of the Senate.

SB 259 Catchall Gun Bill - Among other things, this bill would have prevented houses of worship from banning guns, allowed discharges of firearms on properties of 10 or more acres, prohibited a multi-jurisdictional database on registered gun owners, and allowed probate courts create an online application system for gun permits. It passed the House on Day 40, but the Senate did not agree to the House substitute, thereby ending the bill. Watch Rep. Becky Evans argue against the bill from the House well HERE.



SB 435 Anti-Trans Sports - Late in the evening, the Governor came to each chamber to advocate for his bill requiring students to participate in sports according to their gender assigned at birth, thereby barring trans or questioning children from participating according to their gender identification. I oppose mean spirited finger-pointing at children for being different.

In the end, SB 435 did not get a hearing in the House, but in major midnight shenanigans, an amendment designed to carry some of SB 435 was rolled into HB 1084 (see below) opposing teaching “divisive” concepts in schools, so that a vote for one included the other, with the Governor getting a two-fer. Instead of an outright ban, the amendment gives the decision making on the issue to an oversight committee formed under the Georgia High School Athletic Association, a privately funded, very powerful group. Floor debate was not allowed. Bad result, bad law. I voted NO.

HB 1084 “Divisive Concepts”- This is the CRT (Critical Race Theory) bill, banning teachers from teaching a specific list of nine “divisive” concepts, including systemic racism. This bill will usurp local control of classrooms, have a chilling effect on teacher recruitment (at a time when we need teachers), and censor student learning. The bill is intended to restrict conversations and teaching about race in America. I voted NO on this bill with its rider provision targeting trans children.

HB 1 Prohibiting Campus Free Speech Zones - Public institutions of higher learning cannot establish “free speech zones.” Proponents claim such zones are designed to limit conservative speakers on campuses. I voted NO.

HB 1435 Gap Funding for Students - This bill changes the needs based financial aid program to expand eligibility for those college and university students with 80% of credits needed for graduation who have a financial aid gap. I voted YES.

HB 1283 School Recess - Daily recess will be required for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, subject to local control in certain situations. I voted YES.

Health and Children

SB 338 Postpartum Support - Medicaid support for postpartum women will increase from six to twelve months. This much needed legislation should help bring down the maternal mortality rate in Georgia, which is the second highest in the country. I voted YES.

For More:

SB 576 Grandparents’ Rights - I spoke in favor of this bill that sets out specific circumstances for the court to consider in determining an expansion of the limited visitation rights of grandparents when a parent dies or becomes incapacitated or incarcerated.

SB 514 “Unmask Georgia Students” - This is one of the Governor’s signature efforts, giving parents power to opt out of school mask mandates. Passed and signed by the Governor. I voted NO.

For more: Georgia Recorder

SB 345 No Vaccine Passports - Another bill putting individual rights ahead of health policy, this bill prohibits state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for access to or services by that government or its agencies. I voted NO.


SB 441 Election Investigations - Of three bills (HB 1464, SB 89, and SB 441), the only survivor on Sine Die was a substitute to SB 441 granting the GBI (which is under the Governor’s power) authority to initiate investigations for potential violations of elections laws, rather than waiting to be called in by the independently elected Secretary of State. I voted NO.


SB 319 “Constitutional Carry” or “Permitless Carry”- Another rollback of gun safety laws, this bill abolishes the requirement to obtain a license (involving a background check and fee) before carrying a concealed weapon. This was a signature piece of legislation announced by Governor Kemp before the Session opened. I voted NO.

For more: GPB News


HB 304 Gas Tax Suspended - Already signed by the Governor, this bill had no opposition in the legislature. State surplus funds will be used to fill the gap for the revenue losses. It will take a while to see the benefits at the pump. I voted YES.

HB 1437 Income Tax Rate - I voted YES after the bill was changed to phase in rate changes from the current 5.75% to 4.99% for 2029. The bill also will phase in higher standard deductions, from $2700 to $12,000 for single filers and from $7400 to $24,000 for joint filers. The changes are tied to annual state revenue collections and reserves, such that some years there may be no change in rates. Note: an earlier version had a provision to cap the tax credit for the film industry at $900 million (it is currently estimated at $1.07 billion), but that measure was stripped out in a Senate committee.

HB 1302 Tax Credit - The state will return $1.1 billion in income taxes to taxpayers, or $250 to single filers, $375 to single parents of dependents, and $500 to couples filing jointly. I voted NO, and my newsletter poll showed you would have voted NO, too.

Agriculture and Environment

HB 1150 “Freedom to Farm” Act - This bill circumscribes the ability to sue farmers for nuisances, like odor. Proponents claimed that farmers can work out these situations with their neighbors. However, the bill is designed to protect not small farms but large agricultural and animal farms, such as poultry operations, from lawsuits. I voted NO on the original bill and the Senate substitute.

HB 1355 Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act - The Act is revised and updated regarding lead exposure amounts and abatement requirements. I voted YES.

HB 1437 Raccoons and Opossums - I voted NO on this bill authorizing year round hunting and trapping of these animals. I heard from many of you in opposition to this bill.

HB 893 Hazardous Waste Fees - This bill simply extends to 2027 the collection of fees for hazardous waste disposal and reporting. I voted YES.


HB 92 Vital Records Access - Genealogists and others have worked a long time to get this law, which reduces from 100 to 75 years the time period after a person's death for transference of vital records to the State Archives. I voted YES.

HB 824 Legislator Pensions - This increases the contribution to the legislative retirement system. It involves no taxpayer money because the system is overfunded right now. I voted YES.

You may look up any bill by number on the General Assembly website listed in the last section below. *We do our best to have correct, verifiable information, but some last day changes may not be available. You may find conflicting reports elsewhere, in which case please let us know.
Our last question was whether you supported legalizing horse racing and betting. 64.9% of you voted NO and 31.5% of you voted YES.

There was little legislative energy for this topic, a perennial pursuit of lobbyists. Thank you for answering the poll!
Would you have voted to phase in an income tax reduction, contingent on state reserves?
HB 1437 phases in state income tax rate changes from 5.75% to 4.99% in 2029, along with increasing standard deductions, both contingent on state collections and reserves. It was hotly contested. How would you have voted?
On Sine Die, we passed one of the bills in my long effort to shed light on the processes used by Georgia's over 700 development authorities.

  • Caps the per diem amounts directors of authorities in the four largest metro counties can pay themselves, and
  • Gives a state agency jurisdiction over complaints of ethics violations against any development authority or its members.

The bill does not address the tax incentives and abatements routinely granted by authorities to developers, and Georgia law does not currently define or regulate such abatements. Often stakeholders like school systems do not know about development deals that will have a financial impact.

Senator Max Burns, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics agreed that development authority practices need more study and carried to passage SR 809, establishing a Senate Development Authorities and Downtown Development Authorities Study Committee to meet and report by December 1, 2022. The committee will study the creation, operation, and management of such authorities, with particular emphasis on revisions to state law to protect against abuse of tax funds.

I also am working with House Committee on Governmental Affairs Chair Darlene Taylor to establish an ad hoc committee for the same purpose to work together with the Senate.
Presenting HB 923 before the Senate Committee on Ethics.
We completed our one constitutionally mandated duty by passing the 2023 budget on Day 40. Here are some highlights of HB 911:

  • Total: $32 billion, a 10.8% increase over last year which reflects recovery from the COVID tax losses
  • Education: $11.8 billion, the largest amount in Georgia history for k-12, including teacher raises of $5000
  • Higher Education: $230 million to erase the student activity fees that have replaced underfunding
  • State Employees: Salary and COLA increases
  • State Retirees: COLA increases
  • Behavioral Health and Law Enforcement: $189 million

HB 1013 gives Georgians relief and services in the following ways:

1) Georgia will come into compliance with federal law requiring mental health and substance use insurance coverage to be no more restrictive than coverage for other health care ("parity"), and insurance companies under contract to the state will be required to spend a minimum of 85% of their collected premiums on direct care services.

2) The bill addresses and improves services for those chronic sufferers who are frequent users of emergency departments and crisis units, have repeated encounters with law enforcement and the courts, and often are incarcerated rather than receiving appropriate treatment. It provides for Assisted Outpatient Care, accountability courts, and local trained co-responders to accompany peace officers to calls involving mental illness or substance abuse.

Implementation will begin right away, with changes at state agencies, to state contracts with insurers, in local Community Service Boards, among mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, and in courts and law enforcement agencies.

There will be data collection and reporting duties throughout this year. By year end, the Governor's Office of Health Strategy and Coordination must establish a unified list of prescription drugs for mental health and substance abuse. Agencies will begin developing and implementing programs under the bill.

The 2023 state budget allots $189 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and Department of Public Safety. The Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission also will begin meeting.

For More:
Lawmakers' Brenda Waters interviewed me on Sine Die. See all Lawmakers episodes HERE.
The last day was punctuated by the poignant farewell speech of the Dean of the House, Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, retiring after 48 years of service. Dean Smyre has been appointed by President Biden as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He will be missed, but his service will be honored by this portrait to be hung in the Capitol.
Photo: Robert Andres AJC.
The midday bill signing drew a huge crowd of legislators, advocates, families, and journalists.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Georgia (NAMI), the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, and the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention donned NAMI's green tees and sang "Thank You for Being a Friend" to the Speaker outside his office. He and his wife, Sheree, were visibly moved. Below, the Speaker points to me in the crowd.
We said Happy Sine Die Birthday to our wonderful Administrative Assistant, Olivia Sims. Olivia holds it all together for us in the office. And we said farewell to our two incredible interns, McKaylin Darsey (left, a second year at Emory's Candler Divinity School working on housing and justice) and Michelle Salandy (right, completing her master's degree in bioethics at Emory and headed to law school). We will miss them!
It has been quite a Session. Thank you for being in touch, attending the virtual town halls, and helping me represent your interests.

Please contact me between Sessions, and let me know if you want me to meet with or speak to your group.

I am looking forward to relaxing at my favorite beach spots and going on an adventure to Iceland, but otherwise I will be available to you.

Stay well,

You can search for and track 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:

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