December 15, 2023

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays from the Georgia Capitol!



Politically Georgia—now on WABE every morning at 10am Monday through Friday—is hosted jointly by Bill Nigut, Greg Bluestein, Tia Mitchell, and Patricia Murphy. Politically Georgia is an excellent way to keep up with politics! I will be on as a guest this Monday, December 18th. Please join us for a civil and bipartisan conversation. WABE picked up the talent from the former Political Rewind daily public radio program show along with AJC leadership support.  Please listen live or later via the Politically Georgia podcast on the AJC podcast channel.


The Special Session called by Governor Kemp in response to Federal Judge Steve Jones' Order on October 26, 2023 calling for a redistricting of State Senate, State House and Congressional Districts convened November 29, 2023. We adjourned December 7th, the Republican leadership having drawn three new redistricting maps as ordered by the Court. Litigation over the redistricting's compliance with the Voting Rights Act now goes back to Judge Steve Jones. A briefing schedule has been ordered, and I will attend the hearing in Federal Court before Judge Jones set for Wednesday, December 20 to hear arguments. The plaintiff Democrats argue that the maps drawn by the Republican majority still violate the Voting Rights Act and dilute Black voting strength. The defendants argue that the new maps comply with Judge Jones' Order, and, whatever side wins at the District Court level, any resolution by Judge Jones will be appealed to the 11th Circuit Court.

The Republican drawn House map pairs Representatives Saira Draper and Becky Evans into one House District, and takes away over 75% of our current 82nd House District. The attached map shows the newly numbered House District 84 (listed as 157) where I live to begin at my house and go southeasterly down Columbia Drive below Belvedere and outside 285 into the Stonecrest and Miller Grove areas of the county. This is a dramatic change from what our central Dekalb House District has looked like through decades of redistricting, and it is a huge surprise. In October, Judge Jones' Order did not mention DeKalb County as violating the Voting Rights Act, nor diluting Black voting strength. The 516 page Order addressed areas that require new House Districts in west and southwest metro Atlanta and Macon. I have attached a video of my testimony before the House Reapportionment Committee, where I argued that the drawing of the new House District 84 violates the community of interest required by Federal Court. My segment starts approximately at 1:31.

It is very hard to predict when Court Orders will be entered by either the Federal District Court or the 11th Circuit, but qualifying for the May 2024 primary and the November 2024 election to the House, Senate and Congress begins the first week of March. So those of us that don't know what district we will have to run in may not have information about our options until sometime in early February--- guesses. These timetables are critical to make decisions, and it will be very hard for the voters to know what candidate options they may have in the May primary or November general election. There will be a lot of uncertainty and confusion, and extra expenses to run elections in new Districts.

I will try to keep you updated with as much information as we have. I am very discouraged about the current chaos, and it is very difficult to predict if the Democrats will gain new seats in the House and Senate as ordered by Judge Jones, based on the Order redrawing of Districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Read the AJC's"Opposition mounts against new GOP redistricting maps," dated December 14th.

Reapportionment & Redistricting 11.30.23

House Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting November 30, 2023


I have been interviewed and quoted a good bit in the past two weeks regarding the Special Session and the Republican redrawing of the legislative and congressional maps. Here is one article from the December 8th AJC, "Georgia’s redrawn maps add Black districts but not much representation." Read the entire article here. “For many Republican leaders, racial polarization is politically beneficial,” said state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat who’s served for more than 30 years in the General Assembly. “It creates loyalty for a certain part of the majority-white population of Georgia.”

Here is another article from November 29th, titled "Redrawn GOP House redistricting map targets rising Democrats," also in the AJC. “I’m used to reapportionment being a very mean process that eliminates a lot of good people,” said State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. “Once again we see districts that geographically make little sense — except that they serve some political interest and could, in some areas, increase Black voting strength.”


On December 4th, I and other Subcommittee Chairs of the Behavioral Health and Innovations Commission presented recommendations for year three of mental health reform. The Behavioral Health Commission report will be released soon, and I will post on Facebook detailed information on our recommendations when the final draft is published. We know, however, that our primary recommendation is from the Workforce Subcommittee that I chair. We must have implementation of the rate study payment increases called for from Medicaid providers. Unless we bring Georgia's payments to mental health service providers more in line with regional and national standards, it will be difficult to make progress in filling the staffing gaps we have in Georgia's crisis psychiatric beds or state hospitals.

Thanks to Commissioner Kevin Tanner, we have already made progress, despite the State Senate failure to pass House Bill 520 on services and salaries. New money has been recovered from COVID reserves and is being spent on salary adjustments for some mental health workers, the MATCH committee, and new co-responder programs for law enforcement. Despite Governor Kemp's vetoes, and "disregards" of funding set forth in FY 2024 Appropriations, there are limited increases in services. There is much work to do, and new legislation for introduction in January 2024 is being drafted. I hope you will help us advocate for more mental health reform efforts.


During the Special Session, the Appropriations House and Senate Committees met together to hear from statewide constitutional officers on budget recommendations. The Secretary of State, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Appellate Court Judges all gave their recommendations on budget requests. The Governor's budget will be released on the first week of the Session, which begins January 8th, and there is obvious guesswork ongoing about how the Governor plans to use the $16 billion reserve. $16 billion equals 50% of the total FY 24 budget, and we know the Governor will be seeking multiple tax cutting provisions. However, we are also hoping that they will be increasing social services and education funding, and for the first time there is a legitimate discussion going on about Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid expansion discussion is tied to possible repeal or reform of the Certificate of Need (CON) law, and I am engaged in part of these discussions. Nothing is more important than our budget work, and FY 2025 offers unique opportunities.


Question from last newsletter: Should the state of Georgia pay teachers $10,000 a year to carry guns to schools?

No - 94% (760 votes)

Yes - 6% (49 votes)


December 8-10 - A great weekend to enjoy music and young talent—- the Atlanta Master Chorale at the Emory Schwartz Center and Once Upon a Mattress at Decatur High School! Congratulations to all.

The Capitol was very beautiful during the Special Session. Our actions that week for Court-ordered redistricting were not so uplifting. Federal Judge Steve Jones has already set a hearing for December 20th to review the Republican-led efforts to draw new maps. Stay tuned.

We all gathered on December 4th with Commissioner Kevin Tanner to finalize recommendations to the General Assembly for further mental health reform— our third year working for the Behavioral Commission! Very impressive work and I look forward to progress.

I went to Glenn Memorial on December 1st for Lessons and Carols with all of Emory’s choirs—- a beautiful annual holiday event.

It was a privilege to attend Rosalynn Carter's funeral at Glenn Memorial on the Emory campus. A life well lived.

Guess where I am? Wearing black and gold Vanderbilt colors but enjoying a pretty good game in the President’s box—- Atlanta’s hometown team!

Thank you both, Bill Nigut and Rose Scott Holmes, for inviting me on November 20th to join WABE for Politically Georgia and Closer Look to talk about the legacy of Rosalyn Carter.

I love this photo——they were true partners. I met Mrs. Carter when I was in law school, and in June I was part of a Carter Center program on her legacy for mental health. A life of love for others and public service for all. We native Georgians have admired her for many decades and mourn her passing.

Adoption Day at DeKalb Superior Court!! Thank you Judge Greg Adams and Clerk DeBerry for celebrating these beautiful families—a very happy day!


Sunday, December 17th - Coro Vocati at All Saints' Episcopal Church

Monday, December 18th - Politically Georgia on WABE

Wednesday, December 20th - Judge Jones' hearing on on redistricting

Monday, January 8th - Georgia General Assembly convenes


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.