State Rep. Deborah Silcox briefed Sandy Springs’ High Point Civic Association at its April 10 annual meeting on the legislative session, discussing her vote against the controversial abortion restrictions and her support for the many other healthcare bills that passed.
Silcox represents House District 52, which includes parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, and is serving her second term in office. She passed six bills this session, but one of her most prominent moments was a speech about her opposition to the abortion bill, which would ban abortions after a heartbeat could be detected.
She said making a decision was difficult and called her vote against it “excruciating.” Bills she sponsored or was proud to support ranged from new preventative measures for HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking to medical marijuana access and a new voting system.
Another priority for Silcox has been working on improving and getting information on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s toll lanes projects on Ga. 400 and I-285. She encouraged people at the meeting to submit comments about the project as she works with GDOT and cities to try to make changes.
“This is my hometown, this is your hometown and the greatest currency we have in this whole process is for everybody to be engaged,” Silcox said. “This really is upsetting to me and I’m doing all that I can to work with GDOT.”
Silcox spoke to about 75 people at the meeting, which was held at Highpoint Episcopal Community Church and included another speech by Sandy Springs Recreation and Parks Director Michael Perry.
Although abortion was the most widely discussed, several healthcare bills were passed this session, Silcox said.
The abortion legislation, which passed and is awaiting Governor Brian Kemp’s signature, would ban most abortions once a doctor can detect an embryo’s heartbeat in the womb, typically after about six weeks. The state’s current law allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
Silcox, who received applause at the meeting for saying she voted against it, said she did so because she believes it is unconstitutional. The legislation also could cost more Medicaid dollars by causing more babies to be born that need the financial support, but it did not call for additional funding, she said.
“There were serious problems with the bill,” she said.
On new healthcare policy she did support, Silcox said she voted for significant changes to state’s certificate-of-need program, which regulates health care facilities and services; creating waivers that could revise state’s health insurance system; and allowing access to medical marijuana for patients already legally allowed to use it.
One of Silcox’s bills that would have expanded access to HIV medication for patients on Medicaid did not pass. But she said supported two others that passed and dealt with HIV: one that legalizes needle-exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV and another that begins a pilot program distribution of a pill that decreases chances of catching the disease.
Another of Silcox’s bills that passed, dubbed “Margie’s Law,” would require doctors to inform patients if they have dense breast tissue, which Silcox said she herself has and can make it more difficult to detect cancer with a mammogram.
“I believe this will save lives,” she said.
Silcox said she supported the “Keeping Georgia’s Schools Safe Act” which would address offenses for minors in possession of a firearm; require school safety plans, including performing threat assessments, drills and education prevention and reporting; and provide new coordination between schools and law enforcement. The act came out of recommendations from a task force headed by Sen. John Albers, who represents parts of Sandy Springs.
Other education-related bills she supported include requiring recess for elementary students, which she hopes would help with increasing obesity and diabetes rates in children, and a budget provision that would provide a mental health counselor in every high school.
A big item on the agenda this session was changing the state’s voting system after issues with the current electronic devices. The bill that passed would still operate on a computer-based system but provide a paper ballot that voters can review before submitting to ensure it is correct, which Silcox supported, she said. The changes are estimated to cost $150 million, she said.
“I think there will be a huge improvement that we have a paper trail,” Silcox said. “It was expensive, but you can’t put a price on our voting integrity.”
Silcox sponsored and was able to pass legislation that broadens the definition of criminal gang activity to include sex trafficking to toughen penalties.
Another bill sponsored by Silcox that passed would create licensure and education requirements for genetic counselors, which advises people on genetic disorders. This would ensure providers of this service are qualified, Silcox said.
“There are a lot of fraudulent groups out there,” she said.