Dear House District 78,

I hope everyone was able to share and celebrate the day of love safely!

The last two weeks have been very busy under the gold dome! Committees are starting to hear more and more bills, and we have begun to vote on the Floor.

Amended 2021 Budget

We passed the Amended 2021 Budget, HB 80. The Senate made a few changes, and the conference committee agreed to add a one-time supplemental $1,000 bonus for state employees making under $80,000 a year. This will include about 57,000 state employees (i.e., troopers, teachers, public health, social workers, etc.) and will serve as a thank you to the employees for their hard work during this global pandemic. The money comes from the federal government, which has provided billions of dollars to schools and significantly increased funding for our Medicaid program. The House and Senate approved these additions, and now it awaits the Governor’s signature.

Voting Rights

In the Special Committee on Election Integrity, we re-heard HB 270. Originally, HB 270 prohibited local election officials from mailing absentee ballots in the ten days leading up to election day. The bill now creates a deadline to request an absentee ballot ten-days before election day; therefore, local election officials ten days to send an absentee ballot and receive them back. It also states that requestors must return the application within three days of receiving it. This is a change from current law. Currently, voters are allowed to request a ballot up until the Friday before election day, which according to some, does not allow enough time for people to receive and return ballots. For example, there are exceptions to this: people with emergencies, such as quarantine, another illness, or military duty.

SB 67-74 are still in the Senate in their Ethics Committee awaiting review.

Corporate Immunity

HB 112 is an extension of a bill passed the last session with a sunset (a 1-year time limit). It says that businesses, large and small, have immunity from any COVID liability. Companies are not immune if they show “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.” The Republican sponsors of the bill say it is for small businesses and their protection from lawsuits. Like many of my Democratic colleagues, I am concerned about this creating immunity for any business and its practices. It focuses on employers, CEOs, and shareholders rather than supporting and protecting workers and employees.

Healthcare

HB 290. This bill would essentially prevent hospitals and nursing homes from obtaining or renewing a license to operate if they create a policy that prevents visitors during a “declared public health emergency.” HB 290 is currently still in committee, and testimony was heard this week. Families of patients say that they want to visit their family, specifically when their health deteriorates because of non-COVID reasons. Many others opposing the measure testified that adding anyone to a healthcare facility increases the risk of infection not only for the patient, who has visitors, but also the staff and other patients. A chance, many facilities cannot take.

The bill would allow at least two family members or friends to visit patients for no less than 2 hours each day, and visitors would have to follow the facilities necessary health guidelines. It would also prevent anyone from suing health care facility if they got sick because of visitors.

COVID Update

As the business continues at the Capitol, COVID continues as well. Typically, there is an adjournment resolution passed, which outlines the legislative days. We only have 40 days to do business, and currently, we only have a schedule that calendars legislative day 25. The leaders are wary of outlining an entire schedule because of COVID concerns. Last year, you may remember, we abruptly paused the legislative session to return home out of safety.

Again, I ask each of you to continue to stay safe and home as much as possible. I am also ready to be a part of social gatherings about as much as the next person, but we have to remain cautious. We need to remember with newer variants surfacing; we MUST continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask or two. Many of us at the capitol are wearing multiple masks daily.

If you need a test, you can visit the DPH website HERE to find a testing location near you.

We passed a milestone in Georgia last week; over 1 million vaccines have been distributed throughout the state. Remember, we are in Phase 1A, which includes first responders, healthcare workers, and senior citizens. You can find a statewide list of vaccine providers HERE. If you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, please call DPH at (888) 357-0169. This is not a number to create an appointment; it is only if you have questions.

I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your State Representative. Feel free to contact me via email at demetriusdouglas78@gmail.com with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the 2021 legislative session or any proposals or recommendations for future legislation. If you’d like to keep up with legislation I have written or cosponsored; you can visit the House Website, HERE, and click on ‘Sponsored Legislation.’

I am honored to serve as your State Representative. I will continue to promote economic development, serve as a voice for our senior citizens, and fight for you and your family’s educational opportunities.