I don’t know about you, but one topic seems to be dominating every conversation I have – the COVID-19 virus. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to find a balance between being cautious and overreacting. With the announcement that this novel coronavirus has reached pandemic levels, our state and city governments are making some responsible decisions regarding “flattening the curve” of the disease.

The onslaught of news about COVID-19 can be worrisome, especially when we receive conflicting messages on the news, on social media, and from our friends and neighbors. Like you, I’m impacted by a child now home from school, a company that’s encouraging telework, and concern about older family members and neighbors who are vulnerable to the virus.

I strongly believe that the best way to avoid rapid spread of the virus is for everyone to follow safety precautions, even if you are young and healthy. If we all work to stop transmission, we’re doing a great service to the more vulnerable people in our community. For the next three weeks, I am cancelling any in-person meetings and gatherings, including the Meet & Greet planned for this Sunday. I am still available by phone and email!

Now is the time to be prepared, stay informed, and ensure your information is coming from reputable, verified sources, such as the CDC page on COVID-19

Here are some tips to remain healthy:

1. Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

2. Use hand sanitizer if handwashing is not an option.

3. Stay home if you are sick.

4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. When encountering others, opt for a friendly wave instead of hugging or shaking hands. Try to maintain about three feet of distance from others.

5. Avoid large gatherings of people and stay home as much as you can. If you must go out somewhere like the grocery store, plan your trip for a low-traffic time of day. If you spend time with friends, be extra vigilant about hand washing, avoiding contact, and disinfecting surfaces.

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

On Thursday (Cross Over Day – more about that below!), the Georgia Legislature passed a substitute version of the mid-year budget that provides $100 million from the rainy day fund to support a response to COVID-19. Then, after a long day of voting, we agreed to suspend the legislative session until the pandemic has been mitigated. This kind of action – along with school closures and the cancelation of large gatherings – is exactly what’s recommended to stop the rapid spread of this disease. 

Speaking of Cross Over Day…

Day 28 of the Georgia Legislative session is known as Cross Over Day, the last day when a bill can be voted out of one chamber and be transmitted to the other. We then have 12 legislative days to consider and vote on those bills in the other chamber. My day started at 8 am with the first Democratic House Caucus meeting, and we remained in the chamber until past midnight on Thursday to debate and pass legislation. Let’s talk a bit about what passed the House this week.

Voting Spotlight

HB 1075, my first-ever bill, passed the Georgia House on Tuesday. The bill will stagger the Atlanta School Board elections, which means that only half of the board seats will be up for election every two years, rather than all seats being up every four years. The staggered elections reduce the loss of institutional knowledge in election years, provide better continuity of leadership, and prevent a “lame duck” period in election years. All of this benefits our children in APS!

HB 1090, Charlotte’s Law, requires that employers provide breaks for nursing mothers to express breast milk. The bill also requires the employer to provide a space other than a restroom. My nursing days are not far behind me, and I remember the importance of having a private, clean place to pump my milk. This is a win for moms and babies alike.

To address the shortage of teachers in rural areas of Georgia, HB 736 offers a tax credit to teachers who serve in those rural schools or in turnaround districts. The $3000 tax credit provides additional incentives for teachers to consider working at these underserved schools. We worked hard on this bill in the Higher Education Committee, and I’m excited to see it pass the House.

HB 719 received bipartisan support in order to modernize existing HIV laws by adopting public health practices for preventing and treating HIV, reigning in criminalization of people living with HIV, and helping Georgians get the testing, prevention, and treatment that they need.

This week, I stood with my fellow Democratic freshmen as a proud co-sponsor of a bill to repeal HB 481, the anti-abortion bill. We could not stop this bill from passing last year, but we have not forgotten the efforts of Georgia Republicans to take away the rights of women to make healthcare decisions for themselves, and we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure women keep those rights.

It’s also important to note the bills that did not advance this session. 

Senate Bill 415 would have made a series of changes to limit lawsuits and verdict sizes, including barring arguments about the value of pain and suffering, protecting landlords against suits for criminal acts on their property, and letting people present court evidence that people weren’t wearing seatbelts.

House Bill 997 would have granted in-state tuition to people who arrived illegally in the country before age 12. This bill was heard in my committee, Higher Education, and I’m disappointed that it did not move forward. Every year, we lose some of our best and brightest Georgia high school students because they are ineligible for in-state tuition. Once these students leave our state to find affordable education, they often don’t come back. 

Senate Bill 368 would have allowed private adoption agencies to opt out of serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. Aside from allowing blatant discrimination, this law could have deprived foster children of loving homes. I’m relieved it did not receive a vote.

Senate Resolution 818 proposed an amendment to the state constitution seeking to clarify that only U.S. citizens can vote. Let’s be clear – only U.S. citizens can vote. That’s already the law. I’m glad the Senate didn’t waste time on an unnecessary resolution. 

What else happened this week?

Qualifying ended, and with no Democratic challenger, I am honored again to be the official Democratic nominee for House District 54. I welcome the opportunity to earn your vote in the next election so I can continue working hard for my constituents!
I was honored to nominate Hillery McNeill for the Women’s Leadership Caucus Yellow Rose/Nikki T. Randall Leadership Award ceremony for her community service work.

If you haven’t already, please browse my website, betsyforgeorgia.com.

As your Representative, your concerns are important to me. Please contact me at betsy.holland@house.ga.gov or 404-656-0116 with questions, concerns, or solutions you may have regarding legislation or other happenings in District 54.

To stay updated, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and follow the Georgia House of Representatives @GAHouseHub on Twitter. Additionally, in-depth information regarding current bills, Georgia’s annual and supplemental budgets, committee meetings, and livestreams from the General Assembly can be accessed via www.legis.ga.gov.

I encourage you and your family to visit our State Capitol and my office, where all constituents are welcome. I look forward to connecting with you!

My office is located at:
18 Capitol Square, SW
409-B, Coverdell Legislative Office Building
Atlanta, Georgia 30334

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Representative Betsy Holland
GA House District 54