“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” ~ A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

The Capitol at night, March 7, 2019 – Crossover Day.

Want the good news first, or the bad?

Actually, I’ve already decided. You know how the average annual job review starts with good news first followed by areas of your professional performance that “need improvement”? I’m reversing that order here, assessing the Georgia House of Representatives’ job performance last week, and starting with the bad news. Why? Because what went down in the House last Thursday night bodes terribly for Georgia’s girls and women.

A single topic dominated news from the General Assembly last week — HB 481, the bill that restricts women’s access to abortion starting at six weeks gestation. It essentially outlaws abortion in Georgia. I was so angry by this gross overstep and interference with women’s personal reproductive autonomy, I gave my first speech from the well of the House in opposition to the bill.

There are many things I could say about how onerous this bill is. I’ll start with its pragmatic problems, the most significant being that at six weeks, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant yet. That significant detail aside, with respect to women’s healthcare, Georgia already has a critical shortage of Ob/Gyn doctors in the state. More than half of Georgia’s counties (80) do not have a hospital where a woman can give birth, forcing many women to travel over an hour just for prenatal care and delivery. In fact, Georgia has the highest rate of maternal morbidity in the developed world. Let that sink in.

Georgia has a maternal healthcare crisis. If HB 481 is signed into law (Gov. Kemp has already committed to doing so) this crisis will be made worse. Ob/Gyns that Georgia desperately needs will be reluctant to practice in a state that ignored their expert testimony about how problematic this bill is and knowingly ties their hands with respect to providing essential healthcare to pregnant women.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the emotional response I’ve witnessed in both men and women since the vote on Thursday. At church on Sunday, my former pastor hugged me with tears in her eyes. A male constituent met me on the ropes outside of the House chamber following the vote, and we hugged one another and wept. A neighbor who is also a physician can’t stop texting me with her frustration and concerns. People are outraged, upset, sad, distraught, depressed, and wounded.

HB 481 isn’t just bad; it feels invasive in the worst way. It condescendingly assumes women don’t weigh all of the heavy considerations when determining with their doctors, their partners, and their God the reproductive health decisions that are right for their circumstances. Worse, it telegraphs the message that Georgia women are little more than vessels of the state. This legislation and its supporters don’t trust women to make such important decisions for themselves. They think legislators, not doctors, should do that.

How does that sit with you? I know I cannot and will not abide by this draconian, backward notion. I will continue to do all I can to fight this egregious backslide. I trust women to make the tough reproductive healthcare decisions that are right for them, and so do my Democratic colleagues.

NOTE: The fight against HB 481 continues this week in the Georgia Senate. It has been assigned to the Senate Science & Technology committee; as of now, a meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 14th at 3:00 p.m. I encourage you to contact state senators, show up at the Capitol during hearings, write to the governor, and to act in whatever way feels comfortable to you. Meanwhile, you have my promise that I will fight this bill in all the ways I can as a member of the House of Representatives. 

Now for the good news.

Going from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other on Thursday night, I am delighted to report that we passed HB 426 — the Hate Crimes bill. This bill specifically establishes tougher penalties when a crime involves premeditated harm to a group named in the bill, which for the first time in almost two decades includes gays, lesbians, and the transgender community. Georgia is one of the last five states in the country without hates crimes legislation. If the Senate passes this bill and the Governor signs it, Georgia will come into line with the vast majority of the rest of the country in establishing better protections again hate-motivated crimes.

In other good news, these bills also passed.

HB 83 In the past two decades, many schools began dropping recess from the curriculum to focus on more instructional hours. Since then, research has emerged showing that elementary school children need unstructured play to be better learners. This bill puts recess time back into the schools.

HB 218 Many of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship-qualifying students find that other pursuits take precedence between high school and college, including starting a family or serving in the military. This bill extends the time students can take off after high school and still use their HOPE Scholarship when they enter college.

HB 282 In a victory for the rights of sexual assault victims, this bill passed requiring law enforcement to preserve physical evidence for at least 50 years or until a case is solved. No doubt this will lead to better convictions of serial rapists and opportunities for cold cases to be reopened.

HB 345 In Georgia, it’s perfectly legal in prisons to shackle pregnant women, even when they’re in labor. This bill prohibits the shackling of women during the second and third trimester, during labor, and during the immediate post-partum period.

Last but certainly not least…

I tip my hat to Georgia’s future leaders! It was my pleasure to get to see my neighborhood 7th Grade Girl Scouts – Christ the King Troop 13578. What a great group of young ladies.

  • betsy.holland@house.ga.gov
  • 18 Capitol Square, SW
  • 490-B, Coverdell Legislative Office Building
  • Atlanta, Georgia 30334
  • 404-656-0116
  • @BetsyForGeorgia on Twitter & Facebook

Representative Betsy Holland, House District 54

Today, Monday, March 11, 2019 marks Day 30 of the Legislative Session.