By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD.
We have just completed our final calendar week of the 2021 legislative session, and the General Assembly will likely adjourn on Wednesday of this week. All committees have wrapped up their work and have passed out all legislation that will have the opportunity to become law this year.
We have achieved much and with two legislative days remaining, Monday and Wednesday, we are expected to have some long days. We will readjourn later this year for a special session to handle redistricting for our congressional districts and our legislative districts.
The Senate last week agreed with the House on Senate Bill 202, a comprehensive update on Georgia’s elections laws and procedures. This legislation combines bi-partisan ideas to make our elections more secure and improve overall voter confidence in the election process. These changes include ensuring that ballot drop boxes are kept in secure indoor locations, expanding weekend voting hours to include at least two Saturdays, and additional security measures on ballots such as requiring the name and designation of the precinct printed at the top. Photo identification, or other approved ID, will be required for all voters. Every legal vote cast in Georgia deserves to be accurately counted, and these new updates ensure that both the distribution and tabulation of ballots is as secure as possible.
Gov. Kemp announced recently that, starting March 25, any adult over the age of 16, regardless of medical history or place of employment, will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
This is an incredible step forward as our state continues to lead the way for the nation on how to safely reopen, while at the same time ensuring that all citizens have the ability to receive the vaccine in a timely manner. I encourage all Georgians to visit www.myvaccinegeorgia. com to make their plans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. The faster we all become vaccinated, the faster we can return to normalcy.
The Senate passed the 2022 General Budget (FY22), which is the biggest hurdle we in the General Assembly must pass. The FY22 budget totals just over $27 billion, signifying the strength and resilience of our economy over the past year and how our state’s economy has continued to grow during the pandemic. After passing the Senate, the bill was assigned to a conference committee where members of the House and Senate met to iron out any final remaining disparities between the two chamber’s versions of the budget. We expect the conference committee reports to be placed on our desks early next week for final approval and to send the FY22 budget on to the governor for his signature.
As a senator I am frequently asked to represent legislation in the Senate that our state representatives have passed in the House, much like they carry my legislation from the Senate. Several bills, in concert with our state representatives, passed the Senate. House Bill 207 passed, which will increase the number of technicians that a pharmacist may supervise from three to four. I also led the passage in the Senate of H.B. 168 that would allow certain inmate information to be made available to district attorneys. I also helped with H.B. 205 that would enter Georgia into the Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact. Under this compact, the Board of Occupational Therapy will be allowed to collect fingerprints of occupational therapists and assistants, as well as conduct criminal background checks through the FBI. Finally, the bridge crossing the Savannah River on State Route 307 will be dedicated to Senator Johnny Isakson and officially called the Senator Johnny Isakson Bridge.
Thank you for your 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 email@example.com.