State Sen. Sally Harrell discussed new laws that restrict business’s COVID-19 liability and could allow unlimited terms for Brookhaven’s mayor, among other legislation, in a July 27 town hall.

Harrell, whose District 40 represents parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, explained which bills passed and which bills died during the 2019-2020 session during Councilmember Madeleine Simmon’s monthly town meeting on July 27.

The session had a three-month break in mid-March because of COVID-19 concerns and came back for the last 11 days of the session at the end of June, according to the Georgia House of Representatives calendar.

State Sen. Sally Harrell.

“This was the strangest legislative session I’ve ever experienced,” Harrell said.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 359 that protects businesses from COVID-19 liability, which Harrell said she voted against during the second half of the session because she wants businesses to have more incentives to take COVID-19 preventative measures seriously.

“I didn’t really feel it was necessary,” Harrell said. “It’s really difficult to prove where you got COVID.”

Brookhaven residents can look forward to a referendum to remove mayoral term limits this November, which was the result of a compromise in the Georgia General Assembly, said state Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Chamblee).

A bill that allowed a referendum to vote on the mayoral term limits, which is currently capped at two terms, passed on the last day of the session and was signed by Kemp on July 29. Harrell said allowing unlimited terms is “actually quite similar to how most of the cities around Brookhaven function.” The bill failed the previous session because it originally upped the mayoral term limits to three without a referendum.

Much of the June return dealt with finalizing the state budget, which the House of Representatives passed before the pandemic hit in March, meaning that the Senate had to essentially start over the budgeting process, Harrell said.

“The budget is a real struggle, even with the pandemic aside, because we had years and years and years of tax cuts,” Harrell said. “We’ve really been cutting taxes to the point where it’s difficult to fund state services.”

The Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 426, which is a hate crime legislation that Kemp signed and went into effect July 1. Harrell said the bill needed a lot of negotiating because of a police protection inclusion that was added at the last minute. The police protections addition ultimately passed as a separate bill, HB 838, and was also signed into law.

Harrell said the legislature worked on a lot of bills regarding voting and the voting process.
Harrell said an amendment that would not allow local governments to mail out absentee ballot requests died in the session. She said she was glad it did not pass and is advocating for DeKalb County to mail out absentee request forms.

Kemp signed a bill that would screen kindergarten students for dyslexia, which Harrell said she supported.

A bill that would have required elementary schools to have mandatory recess died on Kemp’s desk despite overwhelming approval in the Georgia Legislature. Harrell said she has supported the bill for more than 20 years, citing her work on it when she served in the House in the early 2000s.

Harrell said Kemp vetoed it, citing local control for school districts.

“I really thought the governor was a local control guy. It turns out he’s not so much into local control now with the mask mandates,” said Harrell, referring to Kemp’s mandate that cities and counties cannot require people to wear masks because it adds further restrictions to the state’s COVID-19 safety orders.