January 28, 2024

The Real Work Begins

We have completed 10 days of the 40-day 2024 Session and serious business is beginning to be conducted both in public and in private conversations.


Mental Health Day at the Capitol! Here I am with Jeff Breedlove, Strategic Policy Advisor for Georgia Council for Recovery, and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Commissioner Kevin Tanner. Our budget discussions are ongoing, and all three of us and many others have worked hard to provide better mental health services for Georgians. Thanks to all of you as well for your good advocacy efforts. Progress!


Please join us this coming Sunday, February 4th at 6:30pm for a Legislative Town Hall. Thanks to Glenn Memorial Methodist Church for sponsoring Senator Elena Parent, Representative Becky Evans and myself as we discuss what is happening at the Capitol this Session. See you there!


We have completed 10 days of the 40-day 2024 Session and serious business is beginning to be conducted both in public and in private conversations. My most important work following last week's budget week is to participate in Chairwoman Katie Dempsey's Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources that includes Department of Human Services, DFCS, the Department of Behavioral Health, Veterans Affairs, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Public Health. I am encouraged that the Governor is proposing 205 million for additional behavioral health services as recommended by the Behavioral Health Commission on which I serve.

Negotiations are ongoing for additions to the 2024 Supplemental Budget that may be voted on next week on the House floor. As you know, the General Assembly each year amends the current fiscal year budget in our session to update an analysis of revenues received and new or emergency needs in the middle of Fiscal Year 2024. For instance, the Supplemental Budget will be amended to send the entitlement to each of the 181 school districts based on the actual number of children who enrolled at the start of the 2023-2024 school year. There are 1.7 million Georgia children in public school kindergarten through 12th grade. Some districts gained students and some have fewer children enrolled this year. The overall number only grew by 790 children, but growth was very uneven. After a loss of over 8,000 children in the DeKalb County school district during COVID, those children have not returned to DeKalb classrooms for the FY 2024 school year. (Data provided by GA House Budget and Research Office. Full-time equivalent (FTE)).

For FY 2024, our state revenues exceeded projections and there is a record breaking 16 billion dollars in reserves which can be spent at the Governor's discretion. After the Georgia Assembly passes the 2024 amended budget, we will then turn our attention to the FY 2025 budget.


Additional important discussions both in public and private relate to negotiations for modification of the Certificate of Need (CON) provisions for hospitals to expand, and such reform needed in the view of some to be paired with expansion of Medicaid. The Governor and other Republican and Democratic leaders are engaged privately in substantive discussions. Although I cannot predict any authentic commitment to expand Medicaid by the Republican leadership in a traditional way that 40 other states have done which would help cover over 400,000 uninsured Georgians, I remain hopeful that these discussions will produce some progress. It remains inconceivable to me and the friends who care about needed health care reform that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor want to continue to refuse acceptance of 2 to 3 billion dollars annually of federal tax monies that could come to Georgia for Medicaid expansion. Our Georgia taxes are now going to other states and none of what we we pay is currently benefitting Georgia citizens.


Good news—I am asked daily whether the Senate is going to pass HB 520, the 2023 mental health reform bill that was killed by Lieutenant Governor Jones last winter when the House refused to repeal Certificate of Need (CON) as the Lieutenant Governor demanded. My co-sponsor Todd Jones and I, with the active support of House Speaker Burns, are working with select Senate leaders. I remain hopeful, and will report more on our possible progress. Fingers crossed. What is clear and encouraging to me are the additional funds allocated by the Governor for mental health service. The designation of these funds is impressive and obviously directly relates to the reform effort started by the late Speaker Ralston.


I have asked for a hearing on HB 794 to drag the Stone Mountain Memorial Board into the modern world. If you agree that Stone Mountain should no longer advertise itself as a memorial to the Civil War veterans, please contact the Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Chairman John LaHood, and respectfully ask for a hearing. His number is 404-656-5105. Thank you! If you haven't already, please watch the 2023 Atlanta History Center documentary Monument.

Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain


I am proud to work with my colleagues on putting forward health and mental health legislation important to all Georgians. First, I am co-sponsoring with Representative Imani Barnes HB 913, a bill to establish "a grant program for the purpose of creating emergency psychiatric assessment, treatment, and healing (EmPATH) units in hospitals." EmPATH units would take tremendous pressure off of hospital emergency room doctors and nurses who are on the front lines of mental health emergency care and treatment.

Additionally, I am a co-sponsor of two bills put forth by Representative Michelle Au dealing with insulin availability and affordability: HB 856, the Urgent Insulin Safety Net Program Act, and HB 857, the Continuing Insulin Safety Net Act. The affordability of insulin for those who need it has been an ongoing national discussion led by U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock. These bills would improve the lives of Georgians. Read Warnock's bipartisan white paper on insulin deserts here:



Madison Stemples is joining our office as a Session intern focused on ethics in public health policy. She is a third-year law student and second-year Master of Arts in Bioethics student at Emory University. Madi's coursework thus far has centered around federal public health regulation, medical bankruptcy, and the right to die. Madison is excited to experience the intersection of law and bioethics in the Georgia legislature.


Join us for a press conference on Monday, January 29th supporting HB 71 and the protection of the Okefenokee Swamp. I want you to know that I am paying attention to this bill and the refusal by Chairwoman Lynn Smith to hold a hearing even though there are 94 legislative co-sponsors of the bill.


The DeKalb County House Delegation meets every Monday at noon or following adjournment of Session. We will make every effort to stream every meeting live on Facebook. Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeKalbStateDelegation



On January 22nd, Decaturish reported that Decatur High School (DHS) would begin serving cheese sandwiches to students who did not pay their lunch fees. This caused an outcry among Decatur-area residents. One parent, Jasmine Crowe-Houston, started a GoFundMe campaign which raised almost $88,000 in 48 hours to pay the student lunch debts of Decatur students. DHS began accruing school lunch debt after a federal COVID-era program offering free school lunches ended in 2022.

On Thursday, January 25th, City of Decatur Schools announced that the Arby's Foundation had offered a grant to pay for the elimination of school lunch debts. "School lunch debt has risen locally and nationally in recent years, experts say. Organizations like the Arby’s Foundation and the Cumming-based All for Lunch, as well as crowd-sourced donations from the community, often fill in the gaps" (AJC, 1/27/24, Decatur school district eliminates meal debt with one donation, declines another). Should Decatur have gone to foundations first, cancelled the debt with no publicity, or offered cheese sandwiches to non-payers? What would you have done?


In our last newsletter, we stated that Governor Kemp had allocated a 4% pay raise for all state employees in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. For our polling question, we asked the following:

Do you think that the Governor should instead give a higher percentage to state employees who make less than $50,000? 613 of you answered:

Yes - 80% (488 votes)

No - 20% (125 votes)


On Friday, January 26th, Commissioner Tanner, Stan Jones and I joined Mayor Dickens for the ribbon-cutting of The Melody, a great partnership to create 40 supportive housing units on city property -- with GEMA trailers, Aaron rent furniture, donors, and private developers -- all coming together in 4 months. I especially enjoyed seeing Sheree Ralston and Chelsee Nabritt (below). It is so great to see results of mental health reform. Congrats to the Mayor’s team! And there is more on the books to move mentally ill citizens off the streets into permanent safe housing.

I enjoyed speaking with Leadership DeKalb 2024 on Thursday, January 25th!

Thanks to Dorothy "Dot" Ciccarelli for serving as my first page of Session!

I enjoyed attending the annual Emory Legislative dinner with President Greg Fenves. Always wonderful to visit the president's home at Lullwater.

Recovery Day at the Capitol! I have learned a great deal from the Recovery Community. There were thousands of advocates at the Capitol last week working to save lives when overdose deaths are increasing.

Congratulations to DeKalb NAACP for sponsoring a fabulous Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade on January 15th! I had a great time and visited with many friends who were happy to celebrate. In the first photo I am with Edwina Clanton, President of the DeKalb NAACP. Pictured in the second photo are myself, Representative Becky Evans and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond. In the third photo I am with Vickie Turner, DeKalb County Board of Education. Last but not least, in the fourth photo I am pictured with Representatives Imani Barnes and Dar'shun Nicole Kendrick. A great day!

Thanks to Reverend Andy Barnett and All Saints' Episcopal Church for the marvelous MLK jazz concert on Sunday, January 14th.

I love this picture! Stephanie Stuckey and I practiced law and served in the House together for many years. She asked if I remember this picture and I certainly do! “It’s a Man’s World!”— James Brown came to his state Capitol!


Monday, January 29th - Voices for Georgia's Children Panel

Monday, January 29th - Okefenokee Protection Act Press Conference

Tuesday, January 30th - Democratic Women's Caucus

Wednesday, January 31st - Decoding Dyslexia Luncheon

Thursday, February 1st - Master Chorale Donor Lunch

Sunday, February 4th - Glenn Memorial Legislative Town Hall with Senator Parent and Representative Evans

Monday, February 5th - Atlanta Regional Commission Luncheon

Tuesday, February 6th - EPIC Awards Dinner at Emory Law School

Thursday, February 8th - Carter Center Mental Health Parity Day Luncheon

Thursday, February 8th - St. Olaf Choir concert, Emory Schwartz Center

Thursday, February 29th - Crossover Day at the Capitol

Thursday, March 28th - SINE DIE


I am on the following legislative committees. You can watch live every time they meet. Click on the links below for livestreams, agendas, archives and more.



  • Appropriations - Human Resources
  • Governmental Affairs - State and Local Government
  • Judicial - Leverett (two)

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:

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