Hello HD117. Another week and 4 more legislative days have passed. It is getting busy and a little tense in the House Chamber. As we get close to cross over day (Feb 28th), representatives and senators are trying to get hearings for their bills so they can move out of committee. I am watching closely a few that YOU have been bringing to my attention including HB903 (COLA, http://bit.ly/2GoRqUZ), HB600 and HB663 (hate crime bills, see below for URLs), SB339 (prohibition of protests on university campuses, http://bit.ly/2n8brai) and of course anything related to appropriations and the 2019 budget. Keep those emails coming so I know what is on your mind but please be a bit patient with our response.
Monday, February 12, 2018. The morning began with a visit with members from Family Connection and Communities in Schools (http://fc-cis.org). Wonderful to welcome them to the People’s House and to thank them for all the work they do for our students. They believe that a child is more than just a grade and I support their community-schools model. In their own words they “envision a Georgia where all children are healthy, ready to start school and do well when they get there, and where every family is stable and self-sufficient.” That’s something we can all believe in.
After session I was able to spend some time with Athens 4 Everyone (http://athensforeveryone.com). Having groups like A4E come to the Capitol to hold legislators accountable is an important part of our democratic system. Their priorities included affordable childcare, net neutrality, HB663 hate crimes bill, economic equity for all community members, and more. They also did a write-up of their visit that you can read here: http://bit.ly/2oc76Ua.
I couldn’t stay long with A4E because I had a Code Revision Committee Meeting. This committee is charged with cleaning up old laws. At this meeting we held a hearing on HB783 (http://bit.ly/2o6KaXi) that is meant to repeal inactive boards, panels, authorities and other such bodies. Members of the committee had spent time trying to reach out to each board or panel that was up for repeal to see if they were still active. Two such groups testified. One was the Georgia Council for American Indian Concerns (http://www.georgiaindiancouncil.org). I spoke with the Director afterwards and suggested that they make sure they keep their legislators informed so they do not get on the “repeal” list again. That’s a good tip for all of you who have community organizations. It’s impossible to keep up to date with everyone so a little newsletter or email can go a long way.
From the committee meeting I headed back to Athens to the Junior League Athens Meeting. Hosted in the historic Taylor-Grady House on Prince Ave., the meeting was focused on advocacy and to relate their recent experience at the Capitol. Representative Spencer Frye (HD118) and I gave a legislative update and spoke on various bills including HB673: distracted driving (http://bit.ly/2BTV2vA) and HB745: allowing domestic violence victims to terminate a lease without penalty (http://bit.ly/2GK4xBl).
Tuesday, February 13, 2018. My first stop of the day was at the Georgia Emergency Medical Services breakfast (https://dph.georgia.gov/EMS). My hat goes off to these brave men and women who are so dedicated to their work often done in crisis conditions. One of the focus areas they spoke to me about is community paramedicine. This is an area I need to learn more about. I found some interesting background information here: http://bit.ly/2EBdUG6 and http://bit.ly/2Fb5C4R. If you have any personal experience or thoughts on this please send us an email.
Across the lobby was the Georgia Young Farmers Association (http://gaaged.org/youngfarmers/) the adult education component of Georgia’s Agricultural Education program. County Young Farmer Programs conduct educational seminars on everything from agricultural technology to legislative issues affecting agriculture. It is my hope that they will be able to share their knowledge and resources with other county groups like our Young Urban Farmers program in Athens (http://bit.ly/2CsmyRp).
This was Pre-K Week. Every year legislators are given two pre-K books during this week to read in their districts when session is over. If you have a Pre-K group please send me an email so we can schedule a read-in. Reading is so important for the development of our children. They are never too young to be read to. A shout out to all the Pre-K teachers, groups and organizations that work to bring the joy of reading to children.
Lunch was split between UGA’s Family and Consumer Sciences Lunch (http://www.fcs.uga.edu), where Rep. Frye and I again gave a legislative update, and the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation Lunch (http://www.gfb.org), where I listened to Governor Deal talk about Georgia’s agriculture future.
I had just enough time before my committee meeting to take a quick view of new Voting Systems being proposed for Georgia. There is a desperate need to replace our old machines – so old that Microsoft no longer supports the operating system they are running on. HB680 (http://bit.ly/2BzOHZQ) is currently making its way through the legislative process and was assigned to the Government Affairs committee. We need to watch this one closely.
Off I ran to the Judiciary Non-Civil Subcommittee meeting. The hearing that day was for HB660 (http://bit.ly/2EBmIYA) one of two hate crime bills in the House. HB660 is authored by Rep. Meagan Hanson. The other bill is HB663 authored by Rep. Karen Bennett (http://bit.ly/2swIr1W) and supported by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. Georgia is one of only five states, which does not have a hate crimes statute, something I believe should be rectified. There was testimony for and against the bill. I am pleased to report that the authors of both bills have been in discussion to possibly integrate them. We will be having another hearing before we vote on it.
Although I am not a member of the Medical Marijuana Working Group, Chairman Alan Peake has invited me to come to the meetings and stay abreast of what is happening on that front. They were hearing testimony by military veterans of the importance of medical marijuana in terms of preventing suicide, and helping with chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. HR36 (http://bit.ly/2sojLbX) would allow for production of the cannabis oil. The Governor just indicated that he might be open to some expansion, so stay tuned.
Heading back to Athens, it was one of those days I wish I could clone myself. But instead I relied on my trusty intern, Stephanie Flores who attended the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement Demands Meeting (http://aadmovement.org) while I participated in the Meals In the Middle (http://bit.ly/2EDcmuY) dinner to benefit U Lead (https://www.uleadathens.org). Every day I learn from the community and I am inspired and impressed with the work our community leaders accomplish. Thank you to Mokah and Knowa Johnson, Sarah Lockmon and the amazing middle school chefs, and all the U-Lead facilitators and supporters.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018. Valentine’s Day began with an early start as my legislative fellow, Alison Neufeld and I had a full morning set to work with legislative counsel on a couple of bills I want to get introduced before next week. One focuses on sexual harassment and the other on livable wages. We had two great meetings and I followed up with Representative Werkhieser, Chairman of the House Industry and Labor Committee who gave me some guidance on how to pursue the livable wage issue. I’ll be reporting more on this next week.
Session ended late but the folks at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA, http://www.athensoconeecasa.org) were still waiting for me with a full plate for lunch at the Freight Depot. CASA Athens is a local non-profit, volunteer organization that provides advocacy for the 270 children in Athens and Oconee who are in foster care. Their dedication to these children shows. One of my interns, Stephanie Flores is a CASA and currently has two children for whom she advocates. We spoke about the adoption bill that was passed (HB159, http://bit.ly/2DbAa5j) and the concern over the new SB375, Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act (http://bit.ly/2EGUoXX) that contains the religious freedom language that derailed the adoption bill last session. I do not believe this bill would pass the House even if it passes the Senate with the many who currently oppose it, including myself.
Every five years representatives and senators from congressional districts form a caucus to elect the district’s Transportation Board Member (http://www.dot.ga.gov/AboutGDOT/Board). HD117 falls within the 9th and 10th congressional districts so I took part in these two caucuses. It went quickly because there was only one candidate in each, both of whom were currently serving. For the 9th district we reelected Emily Dunn. Jamie Boswell will represent the 10th district again. Note: in photo Jerry Sherrin (CD14) with Emily and Jamie.
Thursday, February 15, 2018. So I guess I’m not immune. Even taking Nyquil for two nights in a row couldn’t keep the cold at bay. Thursday saw me doing what the doctor ordered once I was excused from session – sleep, take meds and let the cold ride through. I am sorry for passing it on to my chief of staff and legislative fellow. At least it was not the flu. BTW, did you get your flu shot? And as our Doctors of the Day have been telling us, always wash your hands.
Friday, February 16, 2018 was again a district day. I spent most of the day in a couple constituent meetings and getting through constituent emails, as well as reviewing some upcoming bills that have been assigned to my committees. Some have asked about our email response procedure. We log every email we get by constituent, bill or topic, and the desired vote. Then we do some research if it is a new bill or topic that I am not familiar with. It is at this point we respond. This takes some time, as I am hesitant to just send a canned response. Know that your email has been received. Because we get so many emails here are a couple of tips to get your email noticed:
- Do customize the email. I don’t like to receive canned emails as much as you don’t.
- Really let me know how the bill or topic affects you personally. Your stories can be powerful conversation pieces as I speak with my fellow representatives in support of or in opposition to a bill or resolution.
- Be respectful. Foul or disrespectful language is a turn off for us all, and I really hate for my interns, who help me review these emails, to be exposed to it. We are all people trying to do our best.
- Sign your name with your address. This helps us verify you are in the district.
Saturday, February 17, 2018. With a few days of non-travel to Atlanta, I woke up feeling much better and headed out to the Bogart Library Expansion & Renovation Ceremony. If you don’t know by now it is no secret how highly I regard our library systems. I was honored to speak a bit about the crucial role libraries have in our communities, sometimes being a critical factor for the success of our children, as well as providing opportunities for economic development with new services and access to technology for all. It was also the first time I put on a hard hat and held a shovel for that traditional photo. The hat kept falling off until a good Samaritan adjusted it for me. So proud of the Athens Regional Library System, all its branches, its staff and volunteers.
Bob and I were again guests of Jackson EMC (http://www.jacksonemc.com) for the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner (http://barrowchamber.com) at Chateau Elan (https://www.chateauelan.com) along with Senator Frank Ginn, Representative Terry England (Chair of the Appropriations Committee), and Congressman Jody Hice (who I met for the first time). The theme was “mining for business” and conversation was light. These events are sometimes difficult for me as I am still getting to meet people and I am not a natural extrovert so if you ever see me at one please come over and say hello. Thanks to Nelson, Houston and Brandon from Jackson EMC for being gracious hosts. Highlight of the night – The Piedmont Regional Library System (http://prlib.org) was awarded the Community Service Award! Yeah for libraries again.
Sunday, February 18, 2018. I am proud to serve on the Domestic Violence Subcommittee of the Democratic Caucus. This is another issue I feel passionately about so it is almost impossible for me to tell Project Safe in Athens (http://www.project-safe.org) no when they ask me to participate in one of their events. This time it was to be one of the featured speakers at the Project Safe’s 19th Annual production of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues. Wasn’t really sure at first about this but felt I would give it a shot. My companion speaker for the matinee performance was Mokah Jasmine Johnson so I knew it couldn’t be that bad. Enjoyed it and look forward to Project Safe’s Dancing with the Athens Stars in April.
Another week down and 18 more Legislative Days to go.
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 email@example.com. 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.