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Guest column: Express lanes
Guest columnist

By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD.

The Georgia Senate has completed our thirty-first day of 40 session days. When we returned this past Monday, we walked right into one of our busiest days of any session affectionally called “Crossover Day.”. Crossover Day is the last day a bill can be passed out of the House or Senate before being sent to the other body.

First, I want to share some exciting news that the Department of Natural Resources and their Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division has awarded the Wormsloe State Historic Site $3,241,616 in a plan to relocate and reconstruct a new visitor center. This project would preserve the historic oak-lined avenue while encouraging more outdoor recreational activities such as walking, biking, and guided tours. I was happy to see the Senate pass a bill I carried, House Bill 163, legislation creating an easier path for children’s health insurance by making Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program more easily accessible by creating an “express lane” program for eligible children. Eligibility for the program will be determined using data collected from other social programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the free school lunch program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and more.

As a subcommittee chair on the Senate Appropriations Committee, this week marked the beginning of our effort to put our finishing touches on the general budget for the 2022 fiscal year. The version of this budget that was sent over to the Senate, in the form of House Bill 81, totals $27 billion in state funds and represents the growing strength of our economy as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. These meetings provided members with insight into how each state agency has weathered the impact of lower-than-expected revenues in the previous budget and how they intend to utilize additional funds given our enhanced economic position. We expect the Senate to take up this vital piece of legislation in the upcoming days.

The Senate also passed legislation creating a special license plate in support of the U.S. Army Rangers. As most of us know, we have the 1st Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment headquartered at Hunter Army Airfield. S.B. 237 would create a special license plate supporting members of the United States Army Rangers. The funds raised would be disbursed to the National Ranger Memorial Foundation, Inc. Our Ranger Battalion is part of the elite Army Special Operations teams.

One bill I was happy to vote for helps our local Historically Black College or University, Savannah State University. The legislation would allow certain institutions within the University System of Georgia to award out-of-state tuition differential waivers and to assess in-state tuition to students who do not qualify for in-state tuition. The bill would also specify that three historically black colleges and universities, including Savannah State University, may award these waivers to up to 4% of fulltime students.

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 ben.watson@

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