By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD.
The Georgia Senate completed our eighth of 40 session days which are authorized by our state constitution. Providing a balanced state budget is the lone legal requirement of the legislature during those 40 days, authorizing expenditures for fiscal year 2021-22. Georgia’s next fiscal year will begin on July 1, 2021 and expire on June 30, 2022.
Over the next few weeks I will review the finer points of the budget, as well as the efforts to reform absentee balloting and other election issues. I will also focus on legislation that may affect our Georgia coastline.
The primary issue still plaguing our thoughts, communities and the world is the COVID-19 virus. Addressing COVID issues has become the foremost effort of this General Assembly, and budget talks are dominated by our desire to mitigate the damage caused by the virus. We are aggressively working to increase vaccinations throughout the state.
Our state currently receives 122,000 vaccines every week. As Moderna and Pfizer continue to increase the number of vaccine dosages produced, Georgia will distribute approximately 146,000 vaccines weekly, a 16% increase in for our citizens.
While planning continues for the next fiscal year, the General Assembly is preparing an amended budget to ensure the current fiscal year is adequately funded. The current FY2021 amended budget, which is funding our state from July 2020-21, allows us to make up emergency needs and budget shortfalls for the remainder of the fiscal year.
As the Chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, I am responsible for the expenditures related to the Health and Human Services portion of the budget. I have generally divided those into three unique parts: first, the mental health budget, in which we are trying to add more funding to ensure those Georgians who need those services have them.
The second portion of the HHS budget includes funding for the Georgia’s Department of Public Health, as well as ensuring that the budget is fully funded, including all vaccine costs. The third portion of the budget relates to other human service budget items. Expenses related to COVID-19 continue to be heavy, especially continued testing for those who may have been exposed to the virus, as well as the development and implementation of software that will allow for us to continue to improve contact tracing throughout the state. We are also developing and implementing software for the surveillance of vaccinations and looking for newer strains of the COVID virus. We have ensured that the Department of Public Health is fully funded, thus allowing them to continue their non-stop effort to slow and stop the virus.
Thank you for your continued interest in the General Assembly session.
As your public servant, feel free to visit me at the Capitol or to reach out to me by phone or email. I am in 325-A Coverdell Legislative Office Building. My office phone number is (404) 656-7880 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to this session and serving all of you.
Watson represents Bryan County in the Ga. Senate.