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Guest column: Halfway through the Senate
Guest columnist

By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD.

The Georgia Senate has completed our nineteenth day of 40 session days. The session is in full swing as several important pieces of legislation are coming out of committees and others are having final touches put on them before being introduced. 

When we returned Monday, we were halfway through, and “Crossover Day” was just eight legislative days away. Crossover Day is the last day a bill can be passed out of the House or Senate before being sent to the other body.

 Now that COVID-19 vaccine production has ramped up, it is vital that all eligible Georgians can receive the vaccine. Senate Bill 46 easily passed and will assist with these efforts by allowing certain medical professionals such as advanced or cardiac Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and pharmacists to administer vaccines while the state is under a public health state of emergency. This legislation will greatly increase the rate at which our state can disburse vaccinations and, when combined with the Governor’s announcement of four new mass vaccination facilities in rural parts of the state that will open next week, shows an aggressive attack against COVID-19 that will result in fewer cases and hospitalizations. The bill will also codify the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS) and permit third parties’ access to GRITS information for disease, injury, or disability prevention, as long as the party follows all federal privacy laws.

 In an effort to continue being one of the most military- friendly states in the country, we unanimously passed a bill that will extend license issuing times for military members. Senate Bill 27 will extend the time in which a current or former member of the military may qualify for the issuance of various professional licenses from 180 days to two years. This will include licenses for electrical contractors, plumbers, conditioned air contractors, low-voltage contractors, and utility contractors.

We also quickly passed Senate Bill 88. This legislation will establish provisions related to Georgia’s teaching structure, including allowing the Georgia Teacher of the Year to serve as advisor ex officio to the State Board of Education. The legislation will support a pathway for veterans to become certified teachers, revise the tiered evaluation systems, and adjust the Professional Standards Commission’s duties in relation to teacher education programs and historically black colleges and universities. This is important as education spending is one of the leading expenditures we make as a state each year and we all are looking for ways to improve our schools state-wide.

One of Savannah’s great friends was the late Senator Jack Hill. From Reidsville, he served honorably in the Georgia Air National Guard with the 165th Airlift Wing located at Savannah International Airport. The Senate passed the Senator Jack Hill Veterans’ Act to allow taxpayers to make a voluntary contribution on their income tax return to a qualified service disabled veterans benefit organization that aids and assists service-disabled veterans.

Fill 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.

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