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Bills pass through Senate in time for Crossover Day

Sen. Ben Watson's Weekly update

POSTED: March 1, 2017 12:00 p.m.

The seventh week of the legislative session has been just as comprehensive as previous weeks, particularly since Crossover Day is four legislative days away. We considered bills ranging from a wide variety of issues and quite a few were brought to the chamber for a vote.

Senate Bill 73 is legislation I sponsored that would develop a new process for appointing the chief judge of the Recorder’s Court of Chatham County and one that I believe would bring stability to the court. This legislation maintains that the chief judge would be elected by the other judges of the court every two years and would also establish the position of a court administrator who would report to the city manager. I was pleased that the bill passed the Senate and it is now headed to the House for consideration. 

I also sponsored SB 8, a bill that would allow nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants the authority to pronounce a patient’s death if they are in hospice care or a nursing home. There is a shortage of physicians in Georgia, especially in rural parts of our state, and this bill is sensible for those in the healthcare field and sensitive to grieving families during a very difficult time. The bill passed overwhelmingly.

The Direct Primary Care Act, SB 50, passed unanimously and would allow primary care agreements in our state and create legal guidelines for carrying out these agreements. This bill would allow physicians and their patients to have a contract with each other where the physician or the physician’s medical practice would provide the patient with healthcare services for an agreed-upon fee and specified time period. As a practicing physician, I believe that this plan is a viable option for patients who have an established relationship with a doctor. But a change in health insurance no longer allows the patient to see that physician. It is my hope that this bill becomes law so that Georgians have more options for their healthcare needs.

SB 160 passed and would levy stricter penalties on people convicted of harming public safety officers. Specifically, the bill would prohibit any part of the current minimum 10-year prison sentence from being suspended or probated. In addition, if a juvenile is accused of aggravated assault with a firearm against a law enforcement officer, this legislation would establish that the adolescent would be charged as an adult. Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each day and this bill underscores the value of law and order in our society. The bill passed with a vote of 40 to 12.

Another bill passed regarding law enforcement but with a considerably different focus. SB 169 would give vehicle owners the option to honor law enforcement officers by purchasing a license plate titled “Back the Badge.” This would be a way for a motorist to declare support for our law enforcement men and women and all of the proceeds would be donated to the Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit Fund. This fund was created in 1950 by the Georgia General Assembly and is a source of revenue to pay benefits to the state’s peace officers.

On a side note, it was my pleasure to welcome two local students from our district to the Capitol. Joseph Simons, an eighth-grader at Savannah Christian Preparatory School and Audrey Simons, a seventh-grader at St. Andrew’s School, served as pages in the Senate and had a first-hand opportunity to see how our state government works. The page program is for students 12 years and older and can be arranged through the House or Senate by your representative. If you are interested, I would be happy to help you arrange for your child to have this unique and educational experience.

As we continue the session your input is important to me and I encourage you to contact me with your concerns and questions. I can be reached at ben.watson@senate.ga.gov or at 404-656-7880. Thank you for placing your trust in me and allowing me to serve you!

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