Georgia’s State Capitol.

Opinion: The Gold Dome got it done

During a year of tough challenges, we’re proud to say that the Georgia General Assembly stepped up when it counted on two important matters.

Lawmakers deserve praise for approving both a hate crimes bill and legislation that will improve care in senior care facilities.

Their action in the final, harried days of a pandemic-interrupted session shows that it is still possible for government to accomplish business necessary to reduce risks that innocent people may encounter through no fault of their own.

Tuesday’s approval of House Bill 426 means Georgia will soon leap clear of an ignominious short-list of states that lacked a hate crimes law.

HB 426 will enhance criminal penalties that can be used against people who target others based on race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. The House passed it in 2019. The shocking, violent deaths of Black people since then no doubt helped change some legislators’ views – and votes. Recent and local among them was the death of Ahmaud Arbery, shot to death along a Glynn County road in February. His death and others led to worldwide protests calling for change.

Tuesday’s passage of HB 426 was understandably an emotional day at the State Capitol. The once-balking Senate approved the measure 47-6, followed by a House vote of 127-38. Co-sponsor Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said, “I’ve had a lot of moments in my career, but today is the finest.” House Speaker David Ralston, who had rightly championed the bill, said that, “This is a defining moment for Georgia.”

Many people and entities worked to make that so. In a joint statement, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce said that, “Today marks a truly unprecedented moment in Georgia history. Our state and local leaders, business community, civic organizations, and our neighbors chose unity and helped to pass a comprehensive hate crimes bill in a historic and overwhelming bipartisan vote.” Indeed we did.

Lawmakers are also due profound thanks for seeing through to final passage HB 987, which will significantly strengthen care provided in Georgia’s senior living facilities. The bill was introduced after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigative reporting series, “Unprotected,” brought to light serious incidents of neglect and abuse that seemingly contributed to resident injuries and even deaths.

State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, was the bill’s lead sponsor and tirelessly advocated for it. After final passage , she said, “I am so proud of Georgia’s House and Senate for making the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our seniors who choose to live in assisted living facilities.”

The bill will bring substantial changes to the state’s assisted living communities and large personal care homes. Memory care units will now have to be certified and have more staff, directors will have to be licensed and homes that break rules will face larger fines. Assisted living homes will be required to have nurse staffing. And the Senate’s version adds requirements for handling pandemic outbreaks.

Approving these two bills reflects quite well on Georgia’s citizen-lawmakers who met a high bar of service to this state in seeing them through. That’s especially notable in a time of partisan discord that can easily derail needed legislation. We join all of Georgia in thanking them for their hard work.

The Editorial Board.

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