Update from the Capitol

Senator Elena Parent
The Parent Press

First Town Hall Meeting of the Legislative Session:

On Monday, I held my first Town Hall meeting of this legislative session, at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. I was so happy to see so many of my constituents show up to engage and make their concerns heard. Your engagement and input are incredibly valuable to me and I am grateful the opportunity to discuss the important issues facing Georgia's General Assembly this session. Stay tuned for the date of the second Town Hall!

Big News! Adoption Bill Passes the Senate...

On Monday, the Senate passed a broad measure that will bring much-needed updates to Georgia's state laws regarding adoption. The passage of HB159, which has been in the making for four years, is a big win for Georgia. During the 2017 legislative session, the measure stalled after religious liberty language was added to the bill. This year, that language was removed and additional provisions were added to ensure the safety of both mothers, and children. After passing unanimously in the House and 53-2 in the Senate, Governor Deal has indicated that he plans to sign the legislation into law.

There is a wrinkle. Legislation that would permit taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to discriminate, based on religious belief, against different people - such as LGBT citizens - has been filed in SB 375. I believe taxpayer-funded organizations should serve all Georgians. Read more about the legislation here.

Proposed Law Would Provide Greater Penalties for Hate Crimes

It's time for Georgia join other states in imposing harsher penalties on people convicted of crimes motivated by hate. Did you know, Georgia is one of only five states that does not criminalize bias-motivated violence or intimidation? SB316 and HB 660 intend to change that, and I'm proud to be a co-sponsor of the Senate bill. These bills would create harsher sentencing penalties for individuals who commit crimes that specifically target a victim because of the victim's race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity. Unfortunately, hate crimes are disturbingly prevalent in our country. Harsher penalties for these types of crimes send a strong message that our state protects all of its citizens, and refuses to tolerate crimes motivated by hate.

Advocating for a Fair Redistricting Process in Georgia:

Last month, I was afforded the opportunity to speak at EmpowerMap, a nonpartisan symposium empowering Georgians to fight Gerrymandering in our state. The event was a result of a collaborative effort by Fair Districts GA, Common Cause GA, Indivisible Groups of GA, and ProGeorgia aimed at providing citizens with the tools necessary to effectively advocate against unfairly drawn political districts. We had a really great turn out! I was very excited to see so many of my fellow Georgians there and can't wait to see them put their training into action as we continue to advocate for redistricting reform.

And, the advocacy is working! This week, the House Reapportionment committee held a hearing on the House redistricting reform bills. There was a large crowd there. I'm hopeful that we will have another Senate hearing on the reform legislation soon. With the positive rulings in federal court, the citizen ballot initiatives in various states around the country, and the grassroots activism, I am very hopeful that we will soon have a breakthrough on this issue to the betterment of democracy.

Free Speech on College Campuses:

In recent years, we've seen multiple instances of students engaging in protests against speakers that have been invited to their college campus. SB339 was introduced in direct response to concerns over these events. This bill purports to address concerns over regulation of free expression on college campuses. Specifically, the bill aims to protect speakers in instances where campus administrations have chosen to disinvite controversial speakers and where students have actively prevented invited speakers from speaking on their school's campus. While we should ensure that those invited to speak on college campuses are able to do so, we cannot achieve this goal by infringing on the rights of students to voice their opposition, and there is a real risk of that as part of this debate. As such, I will be following this legislation with an open mind but with a skeptical eye.

As always — thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the State Senate! It is a great honor.