Proposed Voting Restrictions, Vaccine Update, Budget Passage, and More
The legislative session is two weeks in, and there's a great deal of information to report.
Women of the House in red to call attention to the American Heart Association's 57th American Heart Month. Each year 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with heart disease. More HERE.

Photo credit: House Media Services
Election Law Bills: What You Need To Know
As we all know, the use of mail-in absentee ballots in the 2020 election cycle generated pushback from the state’s leadership, with many bills filed already to add obstacles to absentee voting. There will be contentious fights over all these bills. I am hearing your opposition to these proposals, and I am watching them carefully. Below is a partial list of important bills filed to date; more bills will be introduced and assigned to committees— with most in the House going to the newly created Special Committee on Election Integrity. Although Bee Nguyen (HD 89), Renitta Shannon (HD 84), and I were all active on the Governmental Affairs Committee that previously heard election bills, none of us was appointed to the new committee. Special Committee on Election Integrity The new committee is chaired by Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, one of two lawyers and ten Republicans on the fourteen member committee. Most of the Senate bills are in the Senate Ethics Committee. Senate Ethics Committee

What can you do?
Track bills. Find bills by searching HERE. The ones to watch now are HB 227 and 228, 270 (which had a hearing yesterday) and SB 29, 67, 69, and 71.

Write your representative, your senator, and the committee members to make your position known.

If the bills get a committee hearing, show up for the hearing (due to Covid, many hearings will be available on Zoom through the Capitol website, and you may be allowed to submit questions ahead of time or in the Zoom chat).

Connect with organizations that are fighting bills that would restrict access to voting: Fair FightCommon Cause Georgia ; ACLU Georgia; All Voting is Local; Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda
Supplemental Budget Passed
The Supplemental Budget HB 80, a midyear amendment to the fiscal year 2021 budget, has passed the House, and now is before the Senate for discussion. In this unusual year, I anticipate an early passage based on the risk of the increase in Covid infections in the Capitol and a necessary sudden suspension of our work.  Moving money around to fill budget holes with federal stimulus CARES money, partially restoring the cuts we imposed in our June Session, needs to happen quickly.

As I have reported before, understanding how the CARES money has been used and where these funds are still available and anticipating the new Biden stimulus package is all necessary work for this year’s budget and planning for the fiscal year 2022 budget. This year is totally different in timing and in terms of unknowns, and I am grateful to have an Appropriations Committee appointment and particularly to serve on the Human Services Subcommittee. Stay tuned for more in future newsletters.

Covid Vaccine Updates: Georgia Continues to Lag
In the Legislature

COVID-19 is an ever present part of our lives at the Legislature, with twice weekly testing, mandatory masking, and socially distant seating (house floor, house gallery, and room 341). As you can see above, the House Clerk Bill Reilly and I wear our masks while conferring for a moment. (Photo credit: House Media Services)

The Speaker resolutely has enforced these requirements, especially in the face of a direct challenge by Rep. David Clark (HD 98, Buford), who came to the House floor refusing to comply with the testing. Speaker Ralston had him removed from the House with instructions not to return until he complied with rules. After a couple of days, Rep. Clark returned, apparently deciding he should comply so he could represent his district. New York Times On the other hand, Rep. Angelika Kausche, who sits near Rep. Dexter Sharper from Valdosta, came to the well to highlight Rep. Sharper’s long battle with COVID-19. He is here, representing his district while wearing an oxygen machine to address lingering effects. Sharper Urges Vaccination

And while I do not know all legislators who have tested positive, a guess is that between one-third and one half the General Assembly has at one time or another suffered from Covid. Every week, a number of legislators do test positive, and sometimes we know who. At least one of us is currently in the hospital in serious condition.
The vaccine

Many of you continue to be frustrated in your efforts to secure vaccine appointments. If you keep up with news outlets, you at least know you are not alone, either in DeKalb County, the State of Georgia, or other states. (Photo credit: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

We are experiencing the lack of sufficient supply and the lack of an efficient system of distribution at the federal and state levels. Hopefully, we will see some changes soon.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing stories of long or frequent attempts to register for an appointment online through the DeKalb County (or other county) website, the luck of the draw when someone gets an appointment at a Publix or Kroger or CVS, and people who have driven to other jurisdictions to get vaccinated. I will try to keep you updated with what the Department of Public Health (DPH) tells us—most of which is on that website. Here is a summary of FAQ's legislators received from DPH this week:

Providers Enrolled    2,026
Total Allocated 1,572,950
Total Vaccines Shipped 1,553,450
Total Vaccines Administered 1,030,872

How can I find out where to get a vaccine?
A full listing of vaccine locations accepting members of the public is available HERE. Check your local pharmacy and your local hospital and medical provider as well.

What is the plan for vaccinating teachers or persons with developmental disabilities right now?
DPH expects that the next phase of persons eligible to get vaccine will include educators and persons with developmental disabilities as well as their caregivers, but at present cannot assign a specific date to when that may occur.
 
For perspective, there are more than 1.3M seniors in Georgia in addition to the other categories of individuals who are currently eligible (Seniors 65+, health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and police/fire). In total, this population is more than 2M Georgians, more than what has been allocated so far for two shots per person.
 
What are the plans to improve scheduling for vaccine at health departments?
The Microsoft scheduling product is being tested next week and Microsoft tells DPH that it will be launched for public use on February 15th. This product will allow the public to self-schedule online, and it will also have a call center for members of the public who are unable to use the online system.
 
What about the variant cases in Georgia?
DPH is confirming there are now 19 cases of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 identified in Georgia. This is the same variant discovered in the U.K. and in several other countries and U.S. states. So far, no other COVID-19 variants have been identified in Georgia. The B.1.1.7 cases in Georgia are 15 to 61, eight males and eleven females in metro Atlanta – Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Paulding counties. DPH is working to identify close contacts of the individuals and will monitor them closely.

CDC is tracking post-vaccination COVID-19 cases
For awareness purposes, the CDC released an updated case definition for COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough yesterday. That case definition is as follows: A U.S. resident who has SARS-CoV-2 RNA or antigen detected on a respiratory specimen collected ≥14 days after completing the primary series of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to investigate SARS-CoV-2 infections among people who received COVID-19 vaccine (> 14 days after the 2nd dose) to identify trends or clustering in patient characteristics, the administered vaccine, or the infecting virus.

Some good news: See this article describing state efforts to open large vaccination sites and the White House’s increase in vaccine delivery to states. Georgia’s allocation should rise from 146,000 to 154,000 doses next week.

Volunteers? To volunteer to help administer vaccines, start HERE. If you are a registered nurse or LPN with an out-of-state or lapsed license, try starting HERE.

The bigger picture: The New York Times reports that Georgia has been one of the slowest in the nation among states that have administered both shots. However the situation has improved dramatically in the last week, and we've now used over 65% of our vaccine allotment, mostly for the elderly.
MARTOC Underway

Thanks to all of you who have sent congratulations on my appointment to MARTOC. I have many new duties and am in multiple conversations with staff and board members for MARTA and the Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority. We anticipate interesting times as President Biden and Transportation Secretary Buttegieg work on the stimulus package. I am enjoying all this new activity and looking forward to working with the committee and the House members on their proposals for transit in their areas (there are 50 to 100 transit centers across Georgia) and updating myself on expansions and upgrades including the long-discussed Lindbergh-Emory Line. More on that and other transportation matters later. (Photo credit: AJC)
My Annexation and Tax Abatement Bills Go to Committee; Other Important Legislation
Annexation and Tax Abatement: My bills, 23, 24, and 66 have been assigned to the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on State and Local Government and will have a hearing on Monday, Feb. 8 at 3:30 p.m. You may be able to watch the hearing HERE. I continue meeting with stakeholders and learning how to make these bills as effective as possible to improve annexation procedures and create greater transparency for tax abatements for developers. You can track the bills in committee HERE and view the bills HERE; HERE; and HERE.

Raise the Age: I am cosponsoring HB 272 to expand juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17 year olds, thereby removing them from the adult criminal justice system. Georgia is one of only THREE states left that treat juveniles as adults for all crimes. We have been advocating this change for many years, and I hope this year we'll be successful.

Adoption: Another bill I cosponsor is HB 154 to update adoption procedures, including granting standing to petition to adopt at age 21 and making interstate compact corrections and other technical matters based on a review of major reforms several years ago. This bill passed out of the Juvenile Justice Committee Thursday.

Child Victim Protection: HB 109, which I cosponsor, would allow more time for childhood victims of sexual abuse to bring claims. For more, see my appearance on Lawmakers referenced below.

Reapportionment: I am also a cosponsor of HB 189 requiring more transparency in the redistricting process for 2021 and of HB 55 for apportionment to be done by an independent nonpartisan commission instead of by the General Assembly.

Please let me hear from you about any of these bills, especially if you have a significant interest.
Your Voice Heard: Poll Results/New Poll
Last time, we asked whether no-excuse absentee ballots should be eliminated. Of 237 responses, 25 (10.5%) of you said YES, while 212 (89.5%) of you said NO.
However a recent poll on a related issue suggested a majority of Democrat voters support requiring photo ID to request an absentee ballot. So that's my new question.
Do you support requiring photo ID to request an absentee (mail in) ballot?
Yes
No
Unsure/need more information
Out and About
Speaking Engagements:

In addition to many conversations related to MARTOC duties and with parties interested the Annexation/Tax Abatement bills I filed, I enjoyed several speaking opportunities with you in January:

  • Northside Kiwanis Club 
  • DeKalb Delegation Town Halls
  • LaVista Park Quarterly meeting
  • Jewish Community Relations Council
  • Leadership DeKalb

Media appearances

On next Tuesday, Feb. 9, I will return to GPB’s Political Rewind, with host Bill Nigut on FM 88.5, at 9:00 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Last week I was with host Donna Lowry and Polly McKinney of Voices for Georgia's Children on GPB’s Lawmakers to discuss HB 109, the Child Victim Protection Act.
Coming up later this month:

  • Barton Child Law and Policy Center Legislative Advocacy Clinic
  • With Sen. Parent for The Temple’s Rothschild Social Justice Institute 
  • At All Saints’ Episcopal Church along with former Rep. Edward Lindsey and Rep. Matthew Wilson discussing doing meaningful work across differences.
  • With DeKalb Delegation members for a program hosted by the City of Brookhaven
  • With Sen. Parent and Rep. Evans for Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church Legislative Update

I want to be in touch with you, so please reach out if I can be of help.
Coverdell Legislative Office Building
18 Capitol Square, Suite 604
Atlanta, GA  30334
404-656-0265