Sally Harrell

Sally Harrell.

Occupation: (no response)

Previous elected offices held: Georgia House of Representatives, 1999-2005.

Other community service experience: Former Executive Director of the Health Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, Inc.; Former Co-President of the Emory LaVista Parent Council; Former Girl Scout Leader; member of Central Congregational United Church of Christ.

What is motivating you to run for this office?

More than ever, people are realizing that who they elect to office, at all levels of government, can have major impacts on their personal lives. I have always believed that good government can help individuals, families and communities meet their highest potential. All our citizens deserve affordable healthcare; universal, quality public education; efficient transportation options; and clean air and water. I have enjoyed listening to and working for the people of Senate District 40, shaping an agenda that works to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and throughout Georgia.

What is the biggest issue facing the district and how will you address it?

The impact of the pandemic on the schools is probably the biggest issue facing the district. Parents can’t work while home teaching their children. It frustrates me when I hear athletes are being tested daily for COVID so that sports can continue, but the same is not being done for our teachers and students so they can learn. Our schools need less crowded buildings, up-to-date technology, and adequate COVID testing instead of the billions of dollars in budget cuts they’ve been getting for the last decade. I will use my position to fight to make Georgia’s public schools a priority.

Why should voters keep you in this office?

I will fight against cuts to our public schools. I sponsored the Permanent Classroom Act, to get kids out of trailers and into classrooms. I’ve brought attention to the need to roll back university fees that increase the cost of college degrees. I will push for Medicaid expansion so every Georgia can be covered. In my first term, I helped pass Medicaid expansion for new mothers. Finally, I’m enacting policies for cleaner air and public transit by working to pass an amendment to our state Constitution to allow a portion of gas taxes to pay for public transit expansion.

What would be your policy priority in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic?

As a state senator, one of my jobs is to ensure that state government works for everyone. When 1 million Georgians lost their jobs, our unemployment system was overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed is understandable in this situation, but being inaccessible is unconscionable, unnecessary and immoral. Six months into the pandemic, Department of Labor offices remain closed, and emails and phone calls are not answered. Tens of thousands have not had their claims processed. We need to mandate that the Department of Labor hire enough people to process claims within a reasonable amount of time.

What state law changes, if any, should follow as a result of this year’s protests about racism and police brutality?

Excessive use of police force has fundamentally undermined belief that our government can protect and provide justice for people of color. I am in favor of allocating more resources to social services that promote healthy communities and reduce the need for law enforcement. I will work to increase the budgets for the Department of Child and Family Services, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and our public mental healthcare systems, as well as unemployment training programs, and safe housing for the homeless. I also will work to decriminalize marijuana and reduce existing sentences for possession of marijuana.

Tax abatements granted by governments to developers in such hot real estate markets as Brookhaven have been highly controversial. Should any changes be made in state law to the way abatements are delivered, and if so, what are they?

Georgia created tax abatements so we could compete with other states to get jobs that we would not otherwise get. City and county governments also use abatements for things like apartments, retail stores and office buildings. The lost tax revenue initially impacts other government entities, like our schools, yet the school system gets no say in the decision to abate the developer’s taxes. We need to close this loophole by requiring the approval of all governments whose revenues are impacted. If a project is really worth doing, approval should not be an issue.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.