April 6, 2023

End of 2023 Session: Endings and New Beginnings

Like all Sessions of the Georgia General Assembly, the 2023 session was a mixed bag of good and bad actions. For me, although I can point to some positive budget items, it was a bummer---more politically correct--I was disappointed in many ways and I remain irritated by the effort that was spent on issues that did not move forward.



My fabulous interns Joy and Blaine, students at the Emory School of Bioethics (plus law school and Rollins bound!) organized an April 4th Emory gathering of students interested in Georgia politics. They have worked in campaigns, visited the Capitol on Sine Die, and have policy and politics in their future - it was a fun discussion!


Like all Sessions of the Georgia General Assembly, the 2023 session was a mixed bag of good and bad actions. For me, although I can point to some positive budget items, it was a bummer---more politically correct--I was disappointed in many ways and I remain irritated by the effort that was spent on issues that did not move forward. My colleagues who say “there is always next year in a two-year term” are correct, all bills are available for future action in 2024. But I regret how much time we wasted and failed to help Georgians in need.

Over the last two years, I have worked on legislative behavioral health reform efforts, primarily through the Commission on Behavioral Health and Innovation, chaired by Commissioner Kevin Tanner. After the passage of HB 1013 in 2022, we held multiple hearings during the summer and fall of 2022 and prepared a comprehensive 300-page report of our findings in anticipation of needed follow-up legislation.  I chaired the Workforce and Innovation subcommittee, and our work was detailed and substantive.

I was at the center of drafting House Bill 520 and along with Rep. Todd Jones, the Republican sponsor, and I, both named by Speakers Ralston and Burns to lead the effort, we introduced it early in this year's Session. House Bill 520, with 20 sections, offered a comprehensive second year of critical mental health reforms. It passed the House on March 2nd with a vote of 163-3, and after its passage, Speaker Jon Burns spoke to the press at length about his support of the bill and the legacy of Speaker Ralston. The work for HB 520 was a massive effort of leadership, advocate support, and a model of bipartisanship.

The Senate, however, under the direction of Lt. Governor Burt Jones, refused to allow a vote on HB 520 unless the House passed SB 99, a repeal of the longstanding Certificate of Need law. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee gave HB 520 two hearings, took extensive testimony from "Marjorie Taylor Green supporters" who made unsupportable arguments, stripped many vital sections, and took no vote. The hearing felt like an insult to all the advocates who supported the legislation and had committed countless hours of work. The Senate ultimately took action on HB 520 on one section of the bill that they badly rewrote by substituting HB 520 language relating to data collection onto SB 23. Read more about that portion in the AJC. In summary, the response of the Senate to HB 520 or any meaningful mental health reform was negligible, and I am curious if they will show any more positive response in the 2024 Session.

This Session, many substantive bills were not even allowed a vote, while bills with no substance took up copious amounts of our time. An example: the photograph below is of me trying to fend off SB 145, a bill which protects in perpetuity the gas-powered leaf blower. Legislative creators named it "The LEAF Act." It passed both the House and Senate and is sitting on the Governor's desk for signature. HB 71, the Okefenokee Protection Act, co-signed by 91 legislators, did finally get a hearing, but no vote. That bill never left committee, and a study committee on the swamp mining issue could not pass. Addressing the Okefenokee mining issue was a major goal for environmental advocates, with no result.


WABE: 5 things we learned during Georgia's 2023 legislative session - by Sam Gringlas. "Mary Margaret Oliver, who helped write the legislation, told fellow lawmakers she “must express real disappointment that we are not moving forward..." Read the full article here.

Georgia Recorder: Bipartisan bill to expand mental health services left on Georgia Legislature's cutting room floor - by Jill Nolin. "Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat and one of the bill's co-sponsors. The Republican sponsor, Rep. Todd Jones, struck a more upbeat tone ...Read the full article here.

Atlanta Journal Constitution: OPINION: Another year out of power for Georgia Democrats this session - by Patricia Murphy. "State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, continued to partner with state Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Fulton, on a bill to expand mental health ...

Read the full article here.

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia Legislature passes small portion of mental health bill - by Maya T. Prabhu. Read the full article here.


I was a guest on Political Rewind this week, and we had a full discussion on the results of the 2023 Session, leading with the failure of the Senate to act on HB 520.

The panel: Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, (D) Decatur

Edward Lindsey, former Republican State Representative

Kendra King Momon, professor of political science at Oglethorpe University

Patricia Murphy, political reporter and columnist, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • The AJC's Patricia Murphy says during Sine Die, 20 bills were taken up in the last two hours.
  • Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver talked about failing to expand on mental health reform.

Listen to the entire episode of Political Rewind HERE.


Every year, the Budget is the most important thing we do, and I am pleased with many of the new appropriations. We are funding additional crisis beds in Fulton, Muscogee, and Laurens Counties, and funding 500 new Comp Waivers.  Returning to a HOPE scholarship award of 100% of the tuition at state universities is a very positive action!

The Georgia House Budget and Research (HBRO) Office has published HB 19, the Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget, and the Conference Committee Highlights. From the HBRO website: "HB 19, the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, is set by a revenue estimate of $32.4 billion dollars. This is a 7.4% increase, or $2.2 billion, over the original FY 2023 budget. In the FY 2024 budget, 53% of funds are appropriated to education, 24% for health and human services, 7% for public safety, 7% for transportation, and 9% for economic development and general government services including debt service." Read about the budget and highlights here.

Whitney Griggs and Georgians for a Healthy Futurealso have an excellent breakdown and analysis of the finalized 2024 Budget. You can read it here. As always, please call me if you have any specific questions about budget items or any bill.


A second disappointment of the 2023 session was the failure of the Senate (again the Senate) to move forward on any of the proposed reforms that came from the Senate Study Committee on Development Authorities. Senator Max Burns chaired the Study Committee, invited me to participate as an ex-officio committee member, and did an excellent job leading public meetings and soliciting testimony. A Study Committee report was drafted offering specific amendments to Georgia's Development Authority processes. Legislation was drafted, but did not move forward. There are Several Senators who are employees of Development Authorities and who serve as Senate legislative leaders. I fear that any changes to improve and make more transparent Development Authority workings will be an uphill battle. Another disappointment.


Many of you called or wrote me about SB 140, which is described as follows: Hospitals; the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors performed in hospitals and other licensed healthcare facilities; prohibit certain surgical procedures. Read the bill in all of its versions here. The Republicans added an amendment regarding criminality of doctors in our Public Health Committee on March 14th. I think you'll find the below recording of the committee both illuminating and depressing. It's worth the watch. I was proud of our democratic members for fighting so hard against it, and I stand with transgender youth and the transgender community. Governor Kemp has already signed HB 140 into law.

Public Health 03.14.23

House Public Health Committee Meeting Video 3/14

HB 404: The Safe at Home Act, which extends modest protections to tenants, passed the House. Though it made it through Senate committee, it never made it to the Senate floor. This was another bipartisan effort supported by House leadership, and was the result of extensive work.

Read HB 404 in its various forms here.

Representative Michelle Au and I co-sponsored HB 161, The Pediatric Health Safe Storage Act. Due to massive pressure from the citizens of Georgia, the bill finally had a hearing. Once again, you will find the below recording both eye-opening and pathetic, considering that there have already been 17 school shootings in 2023 as of the date of this publication. Read this CNN article on how gun violence is the number one cause of death for children and teens in the United States.

Read HB 161 in its entirety here.

Public Safety & Homeland Security Subcommittee 2-A 03.16.23

House Public Safety & Homeland Security

Committee Video 3/16

I can offer one piece of very good news from Sine Die. SB 233, The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, also known as the school vouchers bill, did not pass the House. Read the bill in its entirety here. Expect this bill to return in the 2024 Session.


Thanks to DeKalb County officials, including CEO Mike Thurmond, as well as Speaker Jon Burns for joining us and celebrating DeKalb County's Bicentennial on the House floor.


Sine Die Report #1 - Morning: Representatives in Suite 604 of CLOB (Cloverdale Legislative Office Building) met for a luncheon, thanks to Office Administrator Olivia Sims (pictured next to me). Others in the photo, from the left, include Representative Edna Jackson of Savannah, Representative Gloria Frazier of Augusta, Nichita Gherasimenco (Nick), an office worker who recently moved to the U.S. from Moldova, Representative Spencer Frye from Athens, Olivia Sims and myself. We will all miss Olivia and Nick! At this point, I was hopeful about HB 520 making it to the Senate floor or perhaps being attached to another bill.

Sine Die Report #2 - Afternoon: Fiscal year 2024 budget agreement signed to spend $34.4 billion dollars. The City of Decatur School Board homestead exemption passed as local legislation. At this point on the final day, the Mental Health bill was still in limbo and I started becoming less hopeful.

Sine Die Report #3 - Evening: Four hours left. Finished dinner with Gov. Affairs Committee members, and our fabulous aide Molly Aziz - thank you Molly for all your good work! Following dinner, in an interview on GPB Lawmakers, I gave the bad news about the Senate's failure to pass HB 520 or any mental health reform -- a major failure for the 2023 season. Why? Ask your Senator.

Sine Die Report #4 - 1:00am: On Wednesday spent 16 hours at the Capitol watching the good and bad of Sine Die as the Senate killed mental health reform. On Thursday, I got the car washed and took Henry to the dog park. Thursday was more productive.


Emory Law and Bioethics Graduate Student

Over the last several months, I have been privileged to assist Representative Oliver and her team in shaping meaningful bills and standing up against unjust policies while interning at the Georgia Legislature. I have attended countless committee meetings and hearings, media conferences, and observed House Floor sessions, which have brought tears of happiness and sadness, depending on the issue.

Coming into this internship, I would not consider myself naive to the current political landscape of our state. Georgia faces many uphill battles in helping Georgians secure a dignified lifestyle. Unfortunately, policies geared towards improving our state's quality of life, including equitable healthcare, mental healthcare resources, and children's access prevention laws surrounding gun safety faced much resistance during this legislative session. In addition, these past few months have highlighted the issues of power dynamics in the legislature, lobbying influence to prioritize specific issues over more pertinent problems, partisan politics, and the importance of representation for underrepresented groups or communities in the legislative process. Unfortunately, many of the injustices stemming from power dynamics and partisan politics have a tremendous impact on which bills have a chance of productive dialogue or eventually passing to the Governor's desk.      

Our legislators set the agenda for Georgia's policies. Who we elect to represent us is vital to our daily lives. We want legislatures to care about the constituents, want policies to improve our lives, and advocate for bills representing all communities. This is my hope for Georgia's legislative process moving forward, and I know legislatures such as Representative Oliver will support making this change. Working for Georgia House District 82 constituents was a pleasure, and I eagerly look forward to new policies up for discussion.

Emory Bioethics Graduate Student

One of the most interesting things I experienced was sitting in the gallery when the House voted to pass SB 140, the anti-trans legislation. For 90 minutes, queer legislators and legislators who were parents spoke passionately against the bill. Some broke down into tears, many of them ending with pleading with colleagues. As someone who also cares deeply about transgender people, especially transgender youth, this was a very difficult space to be in.

To further intensify the space, it also happened to be nurses' day at the Capitol, so around the time the first of the opposition to the bill came to speak, the gallery of the chamber was being filled with various healthcare professionals in white coats. This felt almost theatrical because also at this time Representative Au is also holding up a packet of over 5,000 signatures from doctors who oppose the bill. The juxtaposition of that document with the noises of the gallery being packed by healthcare professionals felt surreal, especially now knowing that it was merely a coincidence.


Please join us! Representatives Becky Evans, Omari Crawford, Karla Drenner and myself along with Senator Elena Parent will host a Town Hall on Thursday, April 20th at First Baptist Church in Decatur from 6:00pm - 7:30pm. We will discuss the Session and hear your questions about how best to prepare for the 2024 legislative session. Come in person or join the livestream! Please submit your questions at https://bit.ly/TownHall4-20Questions and register to participate virtually at https://bit.ly/TownHall4-20LIVE


Fabulous late morning concert by the Whiffenpoofs -- Yale

a cappella singing group founded in 1908. Perfect anecdote to Sine Die -- thank you for visiting Atlanta! Some friends, staffers and I enjoyed delicious dim sum after the concert at Oriental Pearl Restaurant on Buford Highway.


You can search for and track bills, watch the House (or Senate) in Session, watch committee hearings, monitor legislation by committee, and find contact information —- all on the revamped General Assembly website. Here are quick links:

Make your views known and tell me what issues interest you the most.