Four working days remain until the 2019 Session of the General Assembly gavels to an end. Many important issues remain to be resolved as the usual battles between the House, Senate, and the Governor continue.
HB 481 – Abortion Restrictions. Governor Kemp campaigned on passing the most restrictive abortion bill and his statements through the media pushed the issue to the forefront just as some sighs of relief were heard in the hall. It needed 91 votes to pass and it cleared the House 93-73 with a number of Republicans “taking a walk” in what was totally a partisan vote except one. Because the Senate made some changes, it will come back to the House for final action. If the House disagrees, it will go to a Conference Committee.
Not only does this bill essentially makes almost any abortion a criminal act, it modifies federal census and tax laws by requiring a census taker to count a fetus as a person and grant a tax deduction to any pregnant woman. Never has the security at the Capitol been more dramatic and over whelming as the most personal and painful debates took place. You can watch the debates online.
SB 106 – Governor Kemp’s Medicaid Waiver bill passed the Senate and is now in the House. Our attempts to work with the Governor’s floor leaders with a PeachCare for Adults amendment to extend medical coverage to over a million more Georgians have failed so far since it appeared the Republicans did not have the votes to pass the limited waiver plan estimated to cost more than a simpler expansion of Medicaid.
HB 198 – Repeal of the Certificate of Need (CON) continues to be debated and negotiated even though the House version failed on the floor of the House and may reappear as part of SB 106 sometime in the remaining 4 days.
State takeover of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airportpassed the Senate and stalled in the House Rules Committee. The determined Republicans in the Senate then tacked on the language to a House bill granting jet fuel exemptions. The Mayor and the Atlanta delegation continues to vigorously oppose this takeover that will be tied up in the courts and destroy the good working relationship between the City and the State.
It has been a painful session with good bills being stalled and bills likely to end up in expensive litigation sailing through on a mostly partisan vote.
Efforts by the Georgia Senate for a State “takeover” of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport are firmly in the breast of the House Rules Committee. This article from the Atlanta Business Chronicle explains the situation in the House at the moment. However there is HB 417 relating to jet fuel tax that could be amended with the airport takeover language so we will be ready to oppose that amendment.
Also in the Senate is the “heartbeat” bill, HB 481, that has passed the House with the enthusiastic support of our new Governor Bryan Kemp. They will be voting on that bill either Thursday or Friday of this week.
Since these are both Senate bills, please contact the Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan 404-656-5030 or email him and Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller 404-656-6578 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
With Crossover Day behind us, the House reconvened under the Gold Dome for the ninth week of the legislative session on Monday, March 11. We quickly got back to work this week for three legislative days and committee work days where we considered several Senate measures.
The House also unanimously passed legislation that would provide citizens with a new pathway to become an organ donor. Not only does Senate Bill 99 promote public education and awareness for the ever-increasing need for organ donors in Georgia, this measure would also allow those applying for a hunting, fishing or trapping license to have the option to register to become an organ donor through the Department of Resources’ (DNR) online hunting licensing system. This legislation would enable the DNR to create an organ donor option for those applying for a hunting, fishing or trapping license online, similar to the way citizens can sign-up for organ donor status through a state driver’s license application, and the DNR would be responsible for providing the appropriate organizations with the information of the organ donor. The DNR’s website would also provide online resources to help citizens learn more about the organ donation process, along with the benefits of the organ donation registry. If signed into law, this bill would educate citizens about the life-saving gift of organ donation and could increase the number of donors available to help the 5,330 patients in Georgia who are currently waiting for organ or tissue transplants.
The House continued to promote greater health care opportunities for our citizens this week with the passage of Senate Bill 16. This measure would add Georgia to the list of 25 other states that are part of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Taking part in this compact would allow for certain physicians moving to Georgia from a compact member state to go through an expedited licensure process to practice across state borders and become licensed in multiple states. The compact would create a pathway to licensure that would not change a member state’s existing licensing process, as long as that state has equal or higher standards than Georgia. States entered into the compact are able to share information with each other regarding a doctor’s disciplinary record and background check information to screen qualified doctors to protect our citizens. In order for a doctor to be admitted to practice under this act, the doctor must be licensed under the prevailing standard for medical licensure, and all applicants would be required to pay for and pass a criminal background check so our state could verify any potential licensing issues. This bill would address doctor shortages and the lack of accessible health care, especially in our rural areas, by increasing our doctor population. In turn, this legislation would expand the use of telemedicine, which is essential to developing innovative health care resources within our rural communities. SB 16 would help our state license qualified doctors more efficiently and would help all Georgians receive greater access to health care without having to travel to do so.
The House passed Senate Bill 18, or the “Direct Primary Care Act,” which would give Georgians the option to keep health care directly between the patient and a doctor without requiring insurance. The Direct Primary Care Act would provide an alternative approach to affordable health care by allowing primary care providers to provide health care to a patient through a direct primary care agreement. This would allow patients to pay a monthly fee to a participating physician in order to receive care, and the agreement would not be considered insurance and therefore, would not be subject to state insurance laws or insurance billing. Under the Direct Primary Care Act, a physician that is offering, marketing, selling or entering into a direct primary care agreement would not need a certificate of authority or license other than maintaining a current license to practice medicine in Georgia. The payment agreements would include a 30-day notice for either the patient or the doctor if either party chooses to terminate the contract. Lastly, this measure would allow physicians providing health care services under a direct primary care agreement the right to decline a patient if the physician is unable to provide the appropriate level and type of health care services the patient needs. SB 18 would provide citizens with an alternative avenue towards efficient and affordable health care by removing the unnecessary red tape.
On Wednesday March 13, 2019, I had the privilege of awarding Tamira Moon the Nikki T. Randall Servant Leader Award. For those of you who do not know Tamira, she is an astounding citizen of Atlanta. She has a Masters in Health Education and is a Certified Life Coach. Not only has she helped citizens of Metro-Atlanta, but for the past 15 plus years she actively works to help Georgians around the state. She has handled million dollar grants, worked and planned various community events. Currently, she oversees the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Program in the Department of Public Health. This program works with organizations around the state to monitor mortality and morbidity rates of cancer and well as promotes education in communities. Through this she also works to build awareness about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine which protects against cervical cancer and is focused on cancer prevention and survivorship. This is discussed through initiatives with a specific focus on education. In 2017, she started the Moon and Back Foundation, Inc. The foundation pays homage to Moon’s mother and works to implement strategies focused on health, education, and communities. She has been recognized as one of the 40 under 40 who have made significant strides in their careers, one of the top 25 women in Atlanta, awarded Champion for Good Health, and much more. She is a teacher and a leader who is well deserving of the Nikki T. Randall Service Award.
Atlanta Airport “Takeover” Alert. Please call/write/email Speaker Ralston and Chairman Jay Powell. You can reach them below:
Speaker Ralston: email@example.com or (404) 656-5020
Chairman Powell: firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 656-5141
Crossover. Week eight of the 2019 legislative session began on Monday, March 4, and it was certainly our busiest week yet. This week, the Georgia General Assembly reached Legislative Day 28, also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is a crucial deadline for the House and Senate as this is the last day for bills to pass out of the legislative chamber from which they originated in order to remain eligible for consideration for this session. As a result, Crossover Day is typically one of the longest days of the session, and my colleagues and I worked into the night to pass meaningful and significant House bills to send to our Senate counterparts for their consideration.
THC Oil. This week, the House remained committed to helping suffering Georgians with the passage of a bill that would provide a legal pathway to manufacture and dispense low THC oil in our state. House Bill 324, or the “Georgia’s Hope Act,” would allow for the cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing of low THC oil with a lawful valid license issued by the Low THC Oil License Oversight Board to allow registered patients to obtain low THC oil in Georgia. As a result of previous legislation that was enacted in 2015, patients with certain medical conditions, such as terminal cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, severe autism and others, can register with the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) THC Oil Patient Registry to legally possess up to 20 fluid ounces of medical cannabis oil that contains up to five percent THC. While we have decriminalized the possession of this oil, these patients cannot legally purchase this oil in Georgia, and therefore, thousands of registered Georgians must still break the law to purchase low THC oil from other states. To solve this issue, this bill would authorize the DPH to issue two classes of licenses to produce, grow and manufacture low THC oil in Georgia. The DPH would also issue separate retail licenses for qualified Georgia applicants by January 1, 2020. This legislation would create a sophisticated seed-to-sale tracking system, and it would require facility inspections and sample testing of medical cannabis oil products. This legislation would help the more than 8,000 registered Georgians who suffer from serious medical conditions by establishing a secure, regulated and legal way to obtain this vital treatment.
Hate Crimes. The House passed important bipartisan legislation this week that would create a hate crime statute in Georgia. House Bill 426 would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of a crime that was committed because of an offender's belief or perception regarding the race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability of a person or group. Under this bill, a person convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime would be sentenced to three to 12 months of jail time and face a fine up to $5,000. Additionally, individuals convicted of hate crimes that are of a high and aggravated nature would face sentencing of six to 12 months of jail time, along with a $5,000 fine, and offenders of a felony hate crime would face a minimum of two years in prison. Georgia is one of only five states that does not have a law to protect its citizens from hate crimes, and this bill would bring our state in line with the 45 other states that have enacted similar legislation.
The “Heartbeat” Bill. While these are some of the noteworthy causes tackled by the late hours of Crossover, we also tackled the HB 481: the LIFE Act also known as the Heartbeat Bill. This bill defines fetal viability and life once a heartbeat can be detected. It would include embryos and fetuses in Georgia’s population which would allow parents to count them as dependents in-utero. Once a heartbeat can be detected it would ban any form of abortion with the exception of danger to the mother's life, danger to the fetus's life, and/or a result of incest or rape once reported to law enforcement. Any abortion performed is required to be performed in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, or a health facility licensed as a abortion facility by DCH. Doctors and facilities would be required to turn over abortion reports to law enforcement and would extend fetal homicide to “in the womb”. All of the changes in the bill would go into effect once Roe v. Wade is overturned at the Federal Level. This bill passed through the House and has been sent to the Senate. The entire debate is available by clicking this link and scrolling down to Georgia House, Afternoon, which is where the bill is introduced, and Day 28 Part Five, which is where the vote is. I highly encourage you to watch this speech by Representative Beth Moore; it is one of the most impactful speeches I have heard in the Well.
Below is a copy of Crossover Day's bills with a synopsis of each bill. There were more bills that went onto the Floor from the supplemental calendar provided by the Rules Committee.
This past week the House took up the mantle of Voting Machines, HB 316. This bill is a byproduct of the SAFE Commission and many articles, discussions and meetings. The bill provides for the state to purchase a new voting machine with specifications for said machines, edits exact match, increases ratio of voters to machines, provides for a potential audit trail, allows poll workers to help voters in certain situations, etc The bill does provide some benefits that voters can look forward to. For example HB 316 allows for more assistance from poll workers and many local election officials came throughout the hearings to show their support. While the bill does not explicitly select a specific voting machine, it does favor a system similar to what we have called the Ballot Marking Device (BMD). This allows voters on election day to key in their selection, prints the selection, and then the voter scans the printout through an optical scanner. There are differences between vendors. Some use barcodes to scan, some print on receipt paper like you receive at a store, and some read the words printed. There was great floor debate, but the vote ended along party lines with Democrats voting 72 against and Republicans voting 101 for. The Democrats preferring a hand marked paper ballot before scanning rather than BMD.
HB 31:FY 2020 Budget
We also tackled the budget for the next fiscal year. While there was great disappointment about the lack of funding for Medicaid Expansion, there were good line items in the budget. Feel free to look through this Google Doc that breaks the budget down. I have highlighted some notable changes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YXhJ-z55dLT_ZBAwFjp9F-ZeXy-y4WW_BjVV3Y77PBM/edit?usp=sharing
There is an increased focus on maternal morbidity and maternal mental health. As a member of the Health Appropriations Subcommittee, I advocated for funding for an Emory program to provide telepsychiatry services to women suffering from postpartum depression, a program to create a center of excellence at Morehouse medical School, and additional resources to continue the research on maternal morbidity. We were also able to get $500,000 for permanent supportive housing for the mentally ill in Fulton County/Atlanta area.
As Legislative Day 28: Crossover Day comes, please continue to contact me about issues.
The 2019 Session started slowly since it was interrupted by snow warnings and the Super Bowl. The pace has picked up and there are rigorous discussions about how to fix our healthcare system to make affordable care available to more Georgians. Possible reforms or repeal of the 1970s Certificate of Need Law (CON) has engaged most of the hospital lobbyists. My priority is to focus on how to get the uninsured covered by expanding Medicaid to ensure accessible and affordable healthcare to all Georgians. Here are some basic facts.
Georgia is only one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid
· Georgia has missed out on up to $3 billion for 9 years in federal funding that could cover Georgians and stabilize our rural hospitals
· Medicaid Expansion could create 56,000 new jobs in the healthcare sector
· Medicaid Expansion could cover 32,000 veterans and their spouses not able to get healthcare through the VA
· Even after nine years Medicaid Expansion is still the fastest way to provide relief for people who do not have health insurance.
There is a Democratic proposal HB 37 implementing full Medicaid Expansion and the Republican proposal SB 106 creating a Georgia specific waiver permission for families up to 100% rather that 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and other limitations. The differences are outlined in this document created by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. GBPI.
We did pass the ’19 Amended Budget with some improvements for school based behavioral interventions and more relief for the farmers still struggling after the Michael Hurricane devastation. Here is a summary of that budget.
One aspect of the ’19 Budget highlights the most stunning example of why we need to take advantage of the federal dollars available to Medicaid services. Comparison of the Medicaid Budget in DCH and the State Mental Health Budget in DBHDD shows why our funding for behavioral health is among the lowest in the nation. These are my unaudited gross estimates.
Medicaid Behavioral Health
Federal $’s $7.8 Billion $ 149 Million
State $’s $7.8 Billion $1.2 Billion
Total $’s $15.6 Billion $1.4 Billion
Georgia has rejected the billions of dollars available from the Feds for behavioral health services and opted to use almost all state dollars to try to provide these services. The good news is that both sides are looking for was way to improve this picture. The bad news is that co-pays, work requirements, and how to protect the commercial insurers dominate the discussion rather than trying to improve and augment services. The hospital lobbyists are forced to focus on plans to repeal or revise the existing CON Law that regulates hospital expansions.
Today, we honored Ricci deForest with this resolution:
Recognizing and commending Ricci deForest; and for other purposes.
WHEREAS, Ricci deForest is the founder, curator, and artistic director of Atlanta's esteemed
Madame C.J. Walker Beauty Shoppe Museum, a museum dedicated to the preservation of
Madame C.J. Walker's renowned beauty product development legacy; and
WHEREAS, the Madame Museum is located immediately below the headquarters of the
historic WERD radio station, which at the time of its founding stood as the first African
American owned and operated radio station in North America, and Ricci dedicates
significant energy and resources to the promotion of its sounds and history; and
WHEREAS, Ricci has diligently and conscientiously devoted innumerable hours of his time,
talents, and energy toward the betterment of his community and state as evidenced
dramatically by his superlative efforts to educate the public about Atlanta's rich and dynamic
WHEREAS, his significant organizational and leadership talents, remarkable patience and
diplomacy, keen sense of vision, and sensitivity have earned him the respect and admiration
of his colleagues and associates; and
WHEREAS, it is abundantly fitting and proper that the outstanding contributions of this
extraordinary artistic director and his phenomenal museum be appropriately recognized.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES that
the members of this body recognize and commend Ricci deForest and the superb Madame
C.J. Walker Beauty Shoppe Museum and extend the most sincere best wishes for continued
growth and success.
Thank you Ricci for your hard work toward saving such an iconic and historic location. If you would like to visit the museum, it is located at: 54 Hilliard St NE, Atlanta GA 30312.
Recently, I was honored by Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. I am truly honored to have received such an award. While, I wish I could say our work is finished, there are several more things we can do better. This year I have been tracking issues like maternal mortality and more specifically mental health of women during and after pregnancy. Many organizations and medical schools like Healthy Mother, Healthy Babies and Morehouse School of Medicine have been lobbying for telepsychiatry, which is psychiatric screenings via technology such as video conferencing. These issues are at the top of my list.
January 14, 2019 was swearing in day for all of Georgia’s Legislative and Executive branches.
Our granddaughter Isabella held the Bible for my swearing in.
Governor Kemp, like any new governor, is still consolidating his team. His 2019 Budget recommendations reflected many of his campaign promises including salary increases for teachers, rural economic development, strong support for early intervention for school children., and continuation of judicial reform. Anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and gun rights promises are on the back burner so far.
The 14 brand new Representatives in the Democratic Caucus brought a high level of experience and determination swelling our ranks to 75 (out of 180) and bringing new ideas and energy. Most of the new Reps come from the Metro Atlanta area and they shifted control of Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb local delegations to a Democratic majority. Dekalb has no Republicans in its local delegation.
Focus on bringing rural Georgia into Georgia’s thriving economy produced two bills. If passed, these initiatives will allow Electrical Membership Corporations (EMCs) and telephone cooperatives to apply for federal grants and loans for broadband expansion through the USDA’s Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program passed Congress in 2018. Here are the current versions: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20192020/179472.pdf
and http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20192020/179963.pdf. To read more on this issue please go to : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_bpq6UdEJhSJW5Sp-O34_NJaGwt1OABSEumhDAOZ5tI/edit?usp=sharing
Here are my current leadership positions: City of Atlanta Delegation, Chair and House Democratic Caucus, Secretary
Committees and Caucus: Appropriations (Health Subcommittee), Transportation, Natural Resources and the Environment, Higher Education, Ethics, the Fulton County Delegation, and the Working Families Caucus.
Please contact me anytime at email@example.com
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative!