Hello HD117. It is 5:24 am on Sunday morning as I begin to write my blog for Week 11. Everyone else is asleep. It is quiet and the coffee is on. This is my usual Sunday morning routine. It is a time I get to myself to be able to reflect on all the events of the past week and prepare for the new week ahead. It is also a time where I give my thanks for being able to serve as your Representative. The work is hard, some weeks harder than others. But it is satisfying to know I am doing everything I can, that I am not slacking in this service and that I can wake up every morning and be content to look at the person looking back at me in the mirror knowing she has done what she promised to do.
Monday, March 19, 2018. One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s blog was that I actually spent some of last Sunday working to prepare to state my opposition to the SB336 fingerprint bill. I reached out and spoke with two GBI representatives trying to get an answer to my concerns – is the system they wish to implement to collect innocent Georgian’s data secure? They did not have the answers but promised to have a GBI tech person call me Monday morning and they did. What I learned left me even more concerned. For one, we in the legislature had been told that the fingerprints of those applying for state agency jobs would be kept in a separate database from the FBI criminal fingerprint database. The tech told me this was not true – that all the data will be on one system. Second, she told me that the system does keep fingerprint minutiae (these are the identifying markers that standard security practice says can be kept securely) but that it also keeps the entire fingerprint image (that can be used to open cell phones, etc.) “just in case.” The bill came up for a vote that afternoon and I gave the minority report in opposition. Unfortunately the bill passed based on party lines. It has to go back to the Senate since it had been revised and the Governor stills needs to sign it so it’s not a done deal yet. You can see video of my well speech here: https://youtu.be/FNv3VBzo3-Y.
Monday night saw me back in the district attending Athens Community Agenda’s Mayoral and Commissioner Candidate Forum at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. It was a great opportunity to hear from the three candidates running for mayor of Athens – Kelli Girtz, Richie Knight and Harry Sims. The second part of the event presented over 10 candidates running for county commissioner seats. You can see some of the highlights on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/athenscommunityagenda/.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018. This committee day was spent in the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. We had a number of bills to consider including SB315 the computer hacking bill (http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20172018/SB/315). There are concerns that this bill creates a new crime that is too broad and may in fact penalize those who are just doing their jobs or completing research to make networks more secure. You can see recordings of most committee hearings and meetings by going to the GA House Committees page, selecting the committee name, and then clicking on the Archives option. For “Judi non-civil” click here: http://www.house.ga.gov/Committees/en-US/CommitteeArchives146.aspx.
With GA School Superintendent.
Tuesday was also International Day at the Capitol. The current Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods (http://www.gadoe.org/Pages/superintendent.aspx) was there to highlight the international programs and students of Georgia schools.
Before leaving the Capitol I stopped by and joined Governor Deal, Chairman England, Rep. Wallace and others to celebrate “Georgia Grown” (https://www.georgiagrown.com) during GA Agriculture Week. They focused the presentation on the t-shirts made from Georgia cotton. I was very inspired to learn that Georgia Grown has teamed up with Georgia Industries for the Blind (GIB, https://bit.ly/2G2Y4oi) to produce high-quality Georgia Grown merchandise while providing employment opportunities for the blind in our state. GIB now employs nearly 100 blind persons and generates its total administrative and operating budgets through the sales of its products and services receiving zero dollars from state or federal means. It has maintained the highest national safety rating since 2013.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 proved to be a hectic morning. I began the day with a Domestic Violence Subcommittee (House Democratic Caucus) meeting. This group of representatives keeps track of current and proposed legislation relating to domestic violence and works with organizations focusing on this issue through events and activities.
Next I popped in on a group invited by Rep. Hilton to celebrate Down Syndrome Day at the Capitol. The Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta (http://www.dsaatl.org) held their annual Consortium Day where they received a proclamation by the Governor, learned about legislation that affects their families, and met with their representatives. Shout out to Lori and David Bryan – a fabulous couple who were celebrating 14 years of marriage!
Continuing down the hall I joined Rep. Billy Mitchell and others to welcome supporters of HB981, the “Second Chance Bill” (https://bit.ly/2uj5PBc). This bill would limit public access of records of certain convictions, which would remove barriers to employment and housing for many Georgians. My Judiciary Non-Civil Committee had a hearing on the bill last week but it did not pass out of committee. The Georgia Justice Project and others organized the advocacy day to bring awareness and to garner support for the underlying issue.
We had a visit from Cedar Shoals High School students led by their teacher Jesse Evans. Rep. Wallace and I spoke with the students a bit about how it is to be a new representative at the Capitol, a bit of what our day entails, and answered some questions – like do we always have to dress up – the answer is Yes – men are required to wear suits and ties when they are on the floor and women must dress professionally and cannot wear open toed shoes.
I was a single parent for almost 16 years raising my two daughters so it was a special moment to address the mothers and fathers invited by Rep. Valencia Stovall to be recognized at the first annual Single Parents Day at the Capitol. Rep. Stovall introduced and got passed HR279 (https://bit.ly/2GjU2Y5) to celebrate single parents and to provide tools and resources they need to be successful and raise successful children.
While my intern Cris Ortiz attended the Rural Caucus meeting I headed to the Women’s Caucus for a presentation on PANS/PANDAS (Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome & Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections). The presentation was given by Jessica Gowen, President of Southeastern PANS/PANDAS Association (SEPPA, https://www.sepans.org). I had never heard of PANS/PANDAS before but it seems to be of growing concern for parents in Georgia mainly because of the common misdiagnosis of it as Strep throat or a continuous cold. If you have little ones please click on their website and learn more about it.
That evening I was able to enjoy a Dinner for Donation at the Watkinsville First Christian Church (http://fccwatkinsville.org). I was invited by Minister Sheila Hunter to join them in fellowship as they raised funds for the Oconee Relay for Life and I learned a bit about their history. My ears perked up when the lecturer spoke of Emily Tubman, a Georgia woman from Augusta who became a wealthy entrepreneur at a time when women were supposed to be seen and not heard, and definitely not in charge of a large plantation.
Recognizing the Student Leaders for the March for Our Lives
Thursday, March 22, 2018. My second committee day of the week again was focused on Judiciary Non-Civil. The computer hacking bill (SB315) was voted on and passed 6-5 mainly along party lines. Marsy’s Law (SR146, https://bit.ly/2FKFdh2) for victims’ rights also passed.
Thursdays are when the Working Families Caucus meets. The focus of the last meeting of the session was a review and recap of certain bills still in the pipeline to be voted on before session ends on March 29th. Of particular concern were the transit bill (HB930, https://bit.ly/2DTmvhV), the voting machines bill (SB403, https://bit.ly/2DTmryH), and SB542 (https://bit.ly/2FrWPyH), regarding cooperation of local law enforcement with ICE agents that now had a new section regarding bail bonds that would override local ordinances.
Ended Thursday back at home in Athens attending the Athens Clarke County Democratic Committee meeting where I gave a brief legislative update on certain bills and heard from some new candidates for state races.
Friday, March 23, 2018. You never know what a day will bring. This was a difficult day for members of the Legislature as we learned that Zell Miller, former Georgia governor and founder of the HOPE scholarship had passed away. Speaker Ralston gave a speech to honor his life and shared a touching story of what Miller meant to him. We also found out that morning that the father of one of our colleagues, Rep. Andy Welch, had died that morning in a car accident. I do not know Rep. Welch well, but I was told that he and his father were close and worked every day together in their law firm. I cannot imagine the loss Rep. Welch feels and I wish him and his family peace.
Friday was Men & Women in Radio at Capitol Day honoring Program and Promotion Directors. Although these men and women were mainly from the Atlanta area, I couldn’t help but think of the men and women in radio from District 117 – shout out to Yvonne Roberts, Alexia Ridley, Lady B, Rick Dunn, and Kirenna Gallagher.
Page Liam Abbott
During the lunch recess we had the last Judiciary Non-Civil Committee meeting of the session. We discussed and passed HR1417 (https://bit.ly/2G9VQj1). This was to create a Joint Study Committee on Cultivation, Manufacture, and Dispensing of Medical Cannabis Low THC Oil I am pleased to report it passed.
On Friday evening we held our third Friday Forum on Facebook Live; this one focused on Living Wages. Our invited panelists included Broderick Flanigan (citizen activist, https://bit.ly/2rWaUxx), Jesse Evans representing Economic Justice Coalition (http://www.economicjusticecoalition.org), and Shannan Reaze from Atlanta Jobs with Justice (http://www.atlantajwj.org). Due to some technical difficulties we couldn’t get Shannan on the Live event but she contributed behind the scenes via text and comments to try to keep me on track. Please check out the Facebook recording and the various links and resources we will make available (https://bit.ly/2DRWBLL). This particular Forum was set up once the official hearing in the Industry and Labor committee was cancelled. However, this topic is too important not to 1) be discussed and 2) do something about. To that end, I am committed to working on this issue in a number of ways: (1) this forum is just the first; (2) aligning with groups such as Jobs with Justice and Economic Justice Coalition; (3) learning from community leaders and subject matter experts. I am proud to have put in two house resolutions regarding living wages this session and to have started a conversation with Legislative Counsel about a truth and reconciliation commission (such as the one mentioned by Dr. Baradaran and implemented in South Africa and South Carolina). I look forward to continuing to work on these and other efforts to combat poverty and systemic economic inequality as your representative.
Saturday, March 24, 2018. This was a day full of emotion – from sadness and anger to inspiration and excitement – this day held it all. Began by dropping off donuts and water to the Athens Access to Justice Pop Up Community Legal Clinic. I cannot state enough how grateful I am to the judges, attorneys, paralegals and administrative assistants who offer their Saturday morning to provide legal services to the District. Next one is Saturday, April 21, 2018, from 9 – 11 am. More info on Facebook: https://bit.ly/2I2RESR. Thank you especially to Debbie Finch and her daughter, the clinic’s mascot, Lily.
The rest of the morning and most of the afternoon was spent in solidarity with the millions of students marching around the US and the world in the massive March for our Lives rally event. First stop was at the Oconee Veteran’s Park – so inspiring to see the crowd there. They had been challenged that they would not have more than three people show up – the final tally was upwards of 200 – way to go Oconee! To view the video by Oconee Observations click here: https://bit.ly/2pIzChc. Skip to the best speeches – by the students themselves.
Mallory Harris (one of my sheroes) organized the March for Our Lives (MFOL) rally at the Arches in Athens. https://bit.ly/2GbsMaH. I was blown away by her and the high school students who spoke – they were passionate, articulate and on point. We need to listen to them and we need to support them. Three things I kept repeating yesterday:
- These students are not alone and I as a representative am committed to stand with them and do whatever I can to change the laws (as are many of my colleagues who participated in the MFOL in Atlanta with U.S. Rep. John Lewis)
- They will be old enough to vote in 2020 and they need to, and
- They will be old enough to start running for office in 2024 and I stand ready to mentor them on successful campaigns. They are our future.
When I got home I was able to watch a replay of the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. Proud to have been able to support AADM and Mokah Jasmine Johnson’s taking students from Athens-Clarke County to the DC march. Representation at all levels is so important. You can see some of the speeches here: https://www.c-span.org/event/?442255/march-lives-rally. BTW, Emma Gonzalez makes silence golden (https://cnn.it/2ulEpdE).
Remember, keeping our students and children safe is a bipartisan issue. It is about gun safety not gun control. It is about valuing life.
Sunday, March 25, 2018. Gave a legislative update to the Athens-Oconee Indivisible 10 Group and answered a number of questions regarding certain bills they are watching – including many I mentioned above. Then off to Hendershot’s Café to listen to the Invest in Peace concert, a fundraiser to benefit the GA Conflict Center (https://www.gaconflict.org). Was able to listen to the GA Children’s Chorus (http://georgiachildrenschorus.org), Caroline Aiken (http://carolineaiken.com) and Kate Morrissey before I had to leave. It was inspiring music and very delicious treats.
Ended my evening and my weekend presenting a few awards at the 6th Annual Hip Hop Awards (http://ugalive.com/athens-hip-hop-award/). In full disclosure my law firm, D Gonzalez Law Group, LLC was a sponsor of this event so I got to wear my entertainment lawyer hat for a bit. Incredible talent was highlighted and shared. A special shout out to Celeste Ngeve who won Poet of the Year (https://celestngeve.com). I’ve been honored to listen to Celeste perform a few times in Athens – she is powerful and insightful. A true role model for the next generation.
Another week down and only 2 more Legislative Days to go.
With Rep. Bennett and Henson
I hope that my session updates will help you to stay informed on legislative matters that impact our community and state as a whole, as well as my comings and goings on your behalf. The House website, www.house.ga.gov, has several tools that might be useful to you throughout the legislative session: a live stream of House proceedings, live and archived committee meeting videos and detailed information on all legislation we are considering in the General Assembly.
Call or email me if you have any questions or concerns regarding any current or upcoming legislation. My Capitol office is located in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) 509C, across form the Capitol, my office phone number is 404-656-0220, and I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My District Office is at the Butler Building, 337 S Milledge Ave., Suite 224, Athens, GA 30605.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Which reminds me – don’t forget you can keep up to date on what’s going on, who I am meeting with, what legislation I’m working on and other news by Liking our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DG4GA.