As I look back on my freshman legislative session, I know one thing — I have learned more in the last eleven weeks than I have in the last eleven years. Most of these lessons involve patience and holding my tongue. I can fully admit that I do not excel in either of these areas.
I presented HB 538, The Georgia Early Literacy Act, in House Rules on Crossover Day morning, and it passed out of that committee in their afternoon session. I thought I was home free. Nopity nope nope nope! I had to spend much of Crossover fighting to get it to the floor. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes, but there was some hesitation about letting me present the bill. There are a few groups and people out there who are not fans of the bill (you know who you are, and I hope you’re reading this), and I suspect some high-pressure phone calls were made behind the scenes. What I do know for sure is, at the end of the day, House leadership had faith in me. They listened when I talked to them and showed a lot of trust in a freshman legislator. After spending the day learning patience and how use my grown-up words instead of letting my thoughts fly unedited out of my mouth, I finally got to the floor. I was so mad by this point that I completely forgot to be nervous during my first time presenting in the Well of the House. I am pleased to say my bill passed unanimously!
Since then, I have heard so many stories from parents and grandparents about their children’s and grandchildren’s reading struggles. What I’m hearing from them is, “It’s about dang time.” I’ve also gotten lots of thanks from BOTH sides of the aisle, and I’ve learned that the love of our state’s children and the desire for them to read well and be successful in school and in life is absolutely bipartisan. I’ve also learned that when a group of mothers come to the Capitol to advocate for their children, they are fierce, and they will get it done! The mothers from Decoding Dyslexia supported me while they, and I, advocated for their children. I was their voice here in the House chamber, and I discovered what an awesome responsibility that is.
After House passage, I had to find a senator to sponsor my bill in that chamber and repeat the committee process all over again in the Senate. This first step wasn’t difficult because there was a senator with a complementary literacy bill, so we worked together to help each other. I didn’t know the Senate Education chairman, so I had to introduce myself and ask for my bill to be heard. My bill was put on the schedule for the Senate Education and Youth Committee. I went there and sat for two hours learning patience while they heard two other bills. Two. Hours. Then they ran out of time and another committee needed the room. So, I got rescheduled for their meeting the following week in the morning. Then I got rescheduled to the afternoon meeting on that day. Then I got moved back to the morning meeting with about an hour’s notice. This time, I was too rushed to be nervous, and HB 538 passed unanimously out of the Senate committee. This meant it was on to Senate Rules.
I introduced myself to the Senate Rules chairman and asked for it to be heard in that committee. I also reached out to all the people I knew on the Rules Committee and had my friends reach out to their senators on the committee. When I presented, I had one minute because there were about 70 people waiting to be heard. I felt sort of like an auctioneer. It’s not easy to try to squeeze a 13 page bill into 60 seconds, but I did it. And, at the end of the meeting, it didn’t get picked. For those of you who know me, I have no poker face whatsoever, so I’m sure my disappointment was evident. Of course, I’m learning here that it’s not over until it’s over. The chairman explained that I now had to get at least one senator on the committee to choose my bill. This is where relationships come in handy, and I have a pretty good relationship with my senator and have worked with him for several years on various projects. I texted him and all the other senators again. My friends texted their senators again. In the next Rules meeting, my senator picked my bill, and it was on to the full Senate!
Yesterday, it was heard on the Senate floor, and as luck would have it, I was able to walk over and watch it be voted on. It was almost unanimous in that chamber — one “no” vote. If you’re a Capitol watcher, you’ll know who that was. The Senate is allowed to make amendments from the floor, and my bill was amended before its passage. That means it has to come back to the House for us to agree on that amendment. So, I have to learn some more patience. Now, I just have to wait for Sine Die to get here.