Ballinger drafted the legislation which, if passed by the Senate, will make changes to who can be present in closed court hearings when persons under the age of 16 testify about sex offenses.
The proposal aims to allow victim advocates to be present during such testimony.
Initially, in the reading Tuesday, the bill was struck down with a unanimous show of opposition.
State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) said tradition is to initially vote down any new member’s first statewide bill in the House, no matter how important or serious the issue.
Such was the case with Ballinger’s first proposal Tuesday when she put forward her House Bill 480 for its approval before being sent to the Senate.
This, however, is simply part of the “hazing” process for freshmen representatives, Ballinger said.
Later, all representatives are meant to go back and change their votes to “yes.” Unfortunately, in Ballinger’s case though, four members forgot the second part of this age-old practice and left their votes as “no.”
They came and apologized, Ballinger said.
Ballinger, a former Cherokee County victim advocate, said Thursday that these workers now are not permitted to stay in closed sessions. This can be difficult for the victims, she said.
“Imagine a 10-year-old confronting the person who has molested them for three years,” the state representative for the newly created 23rd District said. “And their advocate has to leave.”
Ballinger said this can cause stress and confusion for the young victims as their district-attorney-appointed advocate provides support throughout court proceedings, explaining the process and providing emotional support.
It’s a serious issue, she said. And it was the weight of the issue that made the first-bill hazing ritual difficult for her fellow representatives.
Ballinger said by the time House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)—always the last to speak before voting—addressed the House, things hadn’t gone quite as well (or poorly for Ballinger) as they’d hoped.
Lindsey playfully chastised the Canton representative for the sobering nature of the bill and asked her to admit that it made their job of picking on her far too difficult.
“A stroke of genius,” she said.
Ballinger said she’s spoken with Senate members and has gotten positive response so far.
HB 480 counts as her first statewide proposal to pass through the Georgia House of Representatives.
HB 450, another of her bills, received Senate approval Feb. 26 but only applies to Cherokee County. It authorizes the county’s State Court to collect a technology fee for all civil cases and criminal fines charged.