Legislative Week 7 (Feb. 19 – Feb 25, 2018)

Hello HD117. I got back to work at the Georgia State Capitol and had a very busy seventh week of the 2018 legislative session. As we get closer and closer to “Cross Over Day,” our agendas continue to get fuller and our days get longer. This week, the House voted on several bills in the House Chamber, and committees worked diligently to hear important legislation before next week’s Cross Over Day deadline.

Monday, February 19, 2018 was President’s Day. The Capitol was closed so I spent it in the District working on various projects and getting prepared for the week ahead.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018. First legislative day of the week began with a mini-talk with the Georgia Women Veterans. We have a few representatives who served in the military or like me come from a military family. We understand the sacrifices and special issues women experience on active duty as well as once they retire such as sexual assault in the military and family care. Got to see my very good friend NuLuv Jones. Here are a couple of resources: Women Veterans Interactive (http://womenveteransinteractive.org) and the Georgia Women Veterans Office (https://veterans.georgia.gov/women-veterans).




Quick jaunt across the street and met up with some folks from Bike Athens (https://www.bikeathens.org) who were there with other Bike groups at the Capitol to advocate for safe biking. They had a number of good resources and tips so check out their website. (PS -Thanks for the blue bike pin – blue is my favorite color).




I really enjoy when students come from the district to visit. Usually we try to schedule a specific time but things happen. Thanks to texting (and a very persistent teacher Jillian Gordon) I was finally able to meet up with two Clarke Central High School Future Farmers of America (https://www.ffa.org) members: Jasani Byrd (sophomore) and Letta Veeder (freshman).




Tuesday was the big University System of Georgia Day at the Capitol – including University of Georgia (www.uga.edu), Georgia State University (www.gsu.edu), Georgia Tech (www.gatech.edu) and others. Many representatives and senators had fun with their alma maters.




Rep. Jonathan Wallace and I then met with the Oconee School Superintendent Jason Branch and members of the Oconee School Board. We discussed various pieces of legislation that affects education and students including HB936 (school year start date, http://bit.ly/2Fvq28N), HB273 (mandatory recess, http://bit.ly/2mVsWtv), and HR992 (constitutional amendment of using SPLOST funds to pay for school infrastructure, http://bit.ly/2BR38ZR), among others.




Before heading to the PAGE/GAEL/GACTE lunch (http://www.pageinc.org) I was able to drop my resolution to create a study committee on the establishment of a Living Wage in Georgia. HR1224 (http://bit.ly/2Fv0DvY) is the first of a series of resolutions and bills I am working on with others, including the Working Families Caucus, to address economic inequality in Georgia, especially for marginalized communities. Thank you to Chairman Dewey McClain (HD100), Rep. Sam Park (HD101), Rep. Karla Drenner (HD85), Rep. Jonathan Wallace (HD119), Rep. Al Williams (HD168), and others for signing on.


With the morning and lunch over, committee work was on. My Judiciary Non-Civil Subcommittee met and on the agenda was a hearing on HB764 (http://bit.ly/2sSys7A) authored by Rep. David Clark, regarding adding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain to the conditions authorized for the use of low THC oil and authorizing cultivation and dispensaries for the oil in Georgia. We would have an additional hearing (or two) on this bill this week. On Friday we actually voted on a substitute of the bill that strikes out the cultivation, dispensary, and chronic pain terms in the bill leaving only the PTSD. I was a supporter of the original bill as it makes no sense to me to authorize the use of this oil for certain diseases but then not provide avenues to have the oil available in the state for those who need it. I’ve had a few conversations with Rep. Clark and I look forward to continuing to support his future work on this issue.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 was a BIG day for many reasons. Started the day with a mini-talk with the women of the Junior Leagues of Atlanta. Alongside Rep. Anulewitz, Rep. Schoefield, Rep. Cannon and Rep. Shannon, among others, we shared updates on upcoming bills of interest for the group including HB745 (permits domestic violence victims to terminate rental agreements, http://bit.ly/2GK4xBl) and bills relating to sexual trafficking as well as sharing our experiences as female legislators. Hint: We need more!

Went quickly to the Clerk of the House to be “excused” from the beginning of session so I could show my support for the Moms Demand Action Rally against gun violence and for sensible gun control in Liberty Plaza. Was proud to stand there with Minority Leader Bob Trammel, and Representatives Oliver, Gartner, Thomas, Wallace, and Dreyer, as well as Senator Elena Parent as we heard inspirational stories from speakers including Mallory Harris, UGA student. You can see photos and watch a video clip about the event on our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/DG4GA/.


Due to the over 1500 participants of the rally, getting in and out of the Capitol buildings was difficult at best. Long lines made it almost impossible for some constituents to get to their representatives’ offices. So what to do? If you are Mark Saxon (Oconee County Commissioner) and have your rep’s cell number you text her. That’s how I was able to go out and meet with him and the Oconee students he brought to the Capitol. Glad everyone was flexible. I ended up giving a mini-talk in the middle of the street (which is closed to traffic so it was safe) to these inspiring students.



Apparently that didn’t go unnoticed as I then addressed another group in the corner of the CLOB lobby. If you come to the Capitol to advocate, and I am not voting or in a committee meeting, I will do everything I can to get to you.




After another committee meeting I headed back to Athens to attend Spirit of an Activist, a book signing event by author and activist Mokah Jasmine Johnson (https://www.facebook.com/mokahjohnsonedu/). I only got to stay for the first half of the event, but it was wonderful to see the community come out to support Mokah and the tireless work she and her husband, Knowa Johnson, have dedicated their lives to. Knowa made a statement that it is hard to put your private life out there and I can totally relate. But the lessons and calls to action in this book make it a worthwhile read and guide.


Thursday, February 22, 2018 is a day I can only describe with the phrase that begins “best laid plans…” I’m sure you’ve had those days where no matter your best intentions to get somewhere or do something it just doesn’t happen. Today we had a joint session where we welcomed the Senate and Judiciary to the House Chambers so we could listen to Chief Justice Hine’s State of the Judiciary address. Each year, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court addresses the General Assembly to report on the judicial branch’s accomplishments and future objectives. During his remarks, Chief Justice Hines, who serves as the head of the judiciary, pointed out that 2018 will bring about great change to the judicial branch, as several new judges will be elected. Georgians will elect a new state Supreme Court justice and Gov. Deal will make his fifth appointment to Georgia’s highest court. To view the entire address click here: http://bit.ly/2CcisRy.


Once the address was finished, Rep. Bee Nugyen and I joined Senators Jen Jordan and Nikema Williams on a panel at the Asian American Legislative Summit. We discussed what our experiences have been in our first legislative session and what tips we could share to those who advocate for causes, etc. I enjoyed hearing from my fellow panelists and meeting some of my constituents from back home.



Back in session a heated debate come up on HB 787 (http://bit.ly/2EH6W2p) that would authorize additional funding for state charter schools. Minority Leader Trammel spoke eloquently questioning why funds are being allocated form the general budget fund for this measure when other requests for additional educational funding (for example to not eliminate COLA, provide merit raises, fill the austerity gap) are always met with “we don’t have the funds.” There seems to be quite a bit of discretion as to when funds are available. Falling along party lines, the vote ended up Yeas 111 and Nays 54. I voted No for the above reasons.


I was able to answer some questions about this bill on Rick Dunn’s radio show on WXAG 1470 AM Athens. My second call-in (done between votes) focused on my current work on the issue of economic inequality. This is a topic of special importance for those in HD117 who live close to, at or below the poverty line. What remedies can we put in place to ensure everyone has access to opportunity and a path forward for economic stability and growth? Be on the lookout for more about this issue including an upcoming Facebook live one-on-one with a local expert on this topic.

I never did make it to the Athens-Clarke County Democrat Committee monthly meeting (remember the best laid plans reference?). The rest of my afternoon and evening was spent in a hearing regarding HB768 (http://bit.ly/2Fu3Njo) that seeks to lower the burden of proof for individuals to prove they are intellectually disabled when they are subject to a death penalty sentence. Georgia is the only state to have a standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This bill would bring down that standard to “clear and convincing evidence.” It also added a pretrial hearing with a judge. We have postponed a vote on this bill for further work on it. As it stands now, the pretrial hearing portion has been removed. Author Rep. Scott Hilton made a comment “that this is now a good bill because nobody likes it.”


Friday, February 23, 2018, I was so excited to get into the Capitol today because this was the day my first page to the House would be coming in, Asa David Callow from Jackson County. I am so glad I can offer students from all over HD117 the opportunity to come and serve as a page in their Capitol. Asa had such a great experience he asked if he can do it again this session. Since we want to offer as many others as we can this opportunity, he will be back next session.




I dropped a bill and a resolution today. The bill is HB1005 (http://bit.ly/2CICBKW) to provide for a private right of action for damages suffered due to sexual harassment under certain circumstances. This was one of my promises and one of the reasons I wanted to run. Georgia does not have a state law against sexual harassment and the Federal law only applies for businesses with over 15 employees. My bill fills the gap.





The resolution is HR 1319 (http://bit.ly/2oxvUWL) creating a House Study Committee on Expanding Georgia Law Prohibiting Discriminatory Wage Practices Based on Sex to Include Discriminatory Wage Practices Based on Race. I appreciate all the Representatives who co-sponsored this resolution and bill with me including: Minority Leader Trammel, Caucus Chair Beverly, Rep McGowan, Working Families Caucus Chair McClain, Rep. Schofield, Rep. Bruckner, Rep. Dreyer, Rep. Oliver, Minority Whip Hugley, and Rep. Kendrick. What a team!



One of the bills I have not yet mentioned is the social hosting bill, HB542 (http://bit.ly/2CjB7es) authored by Rep. Emory Donahoo. We debated this bill for a second time in our Judiciary Non-civil subcommittee Friday afternoon. I have my reservations on this bill as I feel it may go a bit too far and have unintended consequences. But the process on this bill is a great example of the joint work that happens between the author of a bill, committee members and third party stakeholders. We all want to stop the intentional hosting of a party that provides alcoholic beverages to underage minors. But who to hold accountable and in what situations is not so easily discernible. Will keep you all posted.

Heading back to Athens I called on my husband and chief of staff to make sure everything was ready for our Facebook Live Town Hall on current issues relating to gun control and gun violence.. My team and I invited a diverse panel of educators, activists, students, and public servants to answer constituent concerns and work towards finding common sense gun safety legislation and solutions. It was our first time using this technology but after a few technical difficulties we were up and running. To view the town hall, meet our panelists, and get some great next steps of what you can do about this issue go to our Facebook page.



Saturday, February 24, 2018 was a busy day. Stopped for a minute at the Pop Up Legal Clinic put on by the Western Bar Circuit and Athens Access to Justice. These monthly pop up clinics are provided free of charge to community members who may need legal advice on issues that they are facing on a daily basis. The next one is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, 2018 from 9:00 am – 11:00 am at the HT Edwards building. You do not need an appointment; just show up.


For the second year in a row I was able to attend Al-Huda Islamic Center’s Open House (http://www.athensislamiccenter.org). This year my good friend Fatma GK was my guide and I got to share a good blast from the past moment with the Imam (leader of the Center). He had been one of my first guests at the Akbar Dialogue series I organized when I was working for the Office of Institutional Diversity at UGA (http://diversity.uga.edu). What a fabulous event. I put up more photos and impressions on the Facebook page.



Next up was double duty between two events happening at the same time and place – Athens for Everyone was having their annual membership meeting and Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement was having their Civil Rights in Song event – both at the Athens Library on Baxter Street. I couldn’t say no to either so I spent time going from one to the other. I am grateful that both groups understood and accommodated my going back and forth without anyone feeling slighted. First off, thank you so much to A4E for selecting me as the Elected Official of the Year. Wow! Thank you to Commissioner Melissa Link who presented it to me and to my fellow nominees Ovita Thornton, Greg Davis and Kelli Girtz. Talk about a competitive race. Each of these individuals deserves it and I brought them all up front with me to make that point. Remember not one of us can do it alone, so we need to thank everyone including A4E members!


After accepting my award and a brief speech (I tried to keep it brief), I returned to the Civil Rights event in time to catch a few of the performances and Mokah’s timeline of the civil rights movement in America. I wish it was recorded because there is so much important history that is bypassed in our schools. In addition, some of the performances brought tears to your eyes when they were placed in the context of that same history. Mokah wasn’t the only one to wipe away tears and Knowa’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On brought everyone to their feet in a community sing-a-long. This was a treasured moment.


Sunday, February 25, 2018. Melissa Link made a comment when she gave me the award asking if there are two or three of me since I seem to be everywhere at different events around town. The answer is no but I sometimes do wish I had a couple of clones because there is so much going on in HD117 – in all our counties. I don’t get to all but please do not hesitate to send the invites. If I can’t go someone on my team may be able to. Two shout outs this week – Indivisible 10 (http://indivisible-ga.org/tenth/) had a meeting this Sunday. Rep Spencer Frye gave the legislative update. I will be there on Sunday, March 25th to give mine. It will be just 4 days before the end of session so join us for a packed full 20 minutes. And last, but definitely not least, the Athens Land Trust held their Cultivating Community Dinner (http://bit.ly/2HN6c9Q). Even after making last minute plans to join them I had to cancel because of another commitment. Sorry Erin!


Another week down and 14 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 deborah.gonzalez@house.ga.gov. 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.

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