And, scene. That’s a wrap! Last Tuesday was Sine Die, the fortieth and final day of the legislative session. It’s hard to believe that a year ago today I hadn’t even won the Democratic Primary, and now I have my first session in the Georgia House under my belt.
You know, I ran for office because I believed I could be a voice for Georgians – for better access to healthcare, for job growth, for better transit, and for protecting everyone’s basic rights. After a few months under the Gold Dome, I’m more committed than ever to working hard to make a difference for the people of Georgia.
Let’s all recharge and recommit because there’s plenty of work still to do — important work worthy of our continued collective effort.
In the meantime, here’s my final legislative update including the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the 2019 General Assembly, including some highlights from Sine Die. Read on, friends.
We made strides improving education in Georgia.
- Schools will now screen for dyslexia and provide better resources for students identified with learning differences.
- We put recess back into elementary school, allowing children to learn through free play.
- The Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula is fully funded in the state budget, and Georgia educators will be receiving pay raises.
- We also fought off bad school voucher legislation that would have devasted funding for public schools.
- One of my favorite bills of the session (because it came through my committee – Higher Education) now allows HOPE Scholarship students more flexibility regarding when to begin their college education and still utilize their scholarship. This has major benefits for those serving in the military.
With respect to public safety and criminal justice, we passed a several great bills.
- Georgia will now preserve evidence from sexual assault cases to make it easier for law enforcement to catch sexual predators.
- Georgia will no longer shackle female prisoners while they are pregnant, in labor or immediately post-partum.
- Also, we kept a bad bill from coming to the floor for a vote – HB 2 would have allowed concealed carrying of weapons in the state without a permit.
We made great improvements in the area of healthcare, passing bills that will:
- allow for better support of hospitals;
- provide for more transparent medical billing;
- and make it easier for doctors to recommend medicines and therapies that work for their patients without having to adhere to the “step therapy” protocols of insurance companies.
Perhaps the highest-profile healthcare bill this session passed late in the night on Sine Die – the bill legalizing cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana in Georgia. The House Gallery erupted in applause and cheers as families of patients who will benefit from the new law watched the House give final approval. It was a true measure of pride to have a hand in passing legislation that will provide real relief for Georgians with serious medical conditions.
With respect to public safety, several bills that would have reformed gun safety in Georgia failed to come up for a vote. I co-sponsored bills that would have:
- prevented the sale of bump stocks;
- created requirements for securing firearms in the home;
- and allowed for “red flagging,” a practice for preventing possession of firearms by people reported to have certain violent behaviors, who have made threats against others, or who have confirmed signs of mental instability.
On the Senate side, a bill to prevent people convicted of domestic violence from acquiring guns made it out of committee but wasn’t allowed to come for a vote before the full Senate. Sadly, most of these bills did not even get a hearing in committee despite the fact that a majority of Georgians support common sense gun reform. We will continue to fight for them.
Did you know that Georgia is one of only five states in the U.S. without hate crime protections? It is, so we were ecstatic to pass the Hate Crimes Act on Crossover Day in the House. It would allow for harsher penalties when a crime is determined to have been motivated by hate. Unfortunately, the bill stalled in the Senate and did not progress further. We will see what happens with it next session.
I’m most disappointed by the passage of three bills that cleared both the House and Senate:
- HB 316 creates standards for new voting machines in Georgia. While I wholeheartedly agree Georgia needs new voting procedures, this bill paves the way for the state to purchase machines that could be more prone to hacking and errors instead of opting for what cyber-security experts recommended — hand-marked paper ballots. On the bright side, the bill was amended to include language striking down Georgia’s exact match law which kept tens of thousands of people, mostly minorities, from being able to vote in 2018.
- HB 77, the Confederate Monuments Act, triples existing penalties for defacing a war memorial or monument and specifically prohibits towns and cities from moving monuments to other locations. In other words, if a town wants to move a Confederate statue from the town square to a museum, they will be prohibited from doing so. This bill was a thinly-veiled attempt to protect Confederate monuments erected during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras from being removed.
- HB 481 garnered more press and public attention than any other piece of legislation this year. The forced-birth bill will effectively outlaw abortion in Georgia after six weeks — a point at which most women don’t even know they are pregnant. Instead of focusing our resources on providing better maternal healthcare (or in the case of 80 rural GA counties, any maternal healthcare at all) and access to affordable birth control, the mostly-male legislature passed a draconian law that will put women’s lives at risk, interfere in the medical practice of Georgia’s OB-GYNs, and erode the state’s already-fragile healthcare system. I fought this bill every step of the way, and I continue to hope it will be struck down quickly by the courts.
Look for me at events and town halls around District 54 to talk about this legislative session. I’ll also be scheduling listening sessions to hear from constituents to help me prepare for the 2020 legislative session. Stay tuned on social media for event details and updates.
Now that the session is over, I can receive campaign contributions again. I’m sure you know as well as I do that 2020 is an important election cycle. It’s critical that we hold onto this seat and gain a few more next year.
To support our ongoing efforts, please donate here.
Finally, while an elected official never really takes time off, I will be returning full-time to my “day job” at WarnerMedia now that the legislative session is over. I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my family this spring and summer, so don’t be surprised if you bump into us at Frankie Allen Park or the Garden Hills Pool in the next few weeks!
In the meantime, I always want to hear from you. If you have questions, thoughts, or suggestions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or comment on social media. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter: @BetsyForGeorgia.
Representative Betsy Holland
GA House District 54