By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD
The Georgia Senate has completed our twenty- fourth day of 40 session days. When we return Monday, we will be halfway through the 2021 legislative session, and “Crossover Day” will be this coming week. Crossover Day is the last day a bill can be passed out of the House or Senate before being sent to the other body.
As Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and as a practicing physician, I have seen the cost and pain of the COVID-19 virus. Last week I joined with Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan in visiting the vaccination site at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Augusta, hosted by Augusta University and AU Health. The visit to this vaccination site was an important step in our fight against COVID-19. The process of distributing vaccines to as many eligible individuals as possible is the quickest way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I can say with all earnestness that caregivers at our sites across the state have proven to be extremely dedicated and competent in ensuring quality, fast treatment.
Another piece of legislation I authored, Senate Bill 235, will affect the anti-mask laws of Georgia that were originally enacted by the General Assembly decades ago to outlaw criminals wearing masks during the commission of crimes, as well as strengthen laws against the likes of the Ku Klux Klan wearing hoods during crimes. Exceptions were made for Halloween and other festivals or plays. But with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and other air-borne maladies, we must update the current law with new language permitting wearing of protective masks during a health crisis. This legislation provides an exception from prosecution for wearing a mask when complying with health guidance. It adds an exception from prosecution for masks worn for the purpose of complying with the guidance of any health care agency or health care provider to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or other coronavirus or influenza or infectious diseases. S.B. 235 will come to the full senate for a vote on Monday, March 1.
The Senate also passed my legislation adjusting our state time system to make it permanently set at Eastern Standard Time, which is allowed by federal law. Statistics have shown that the rate of heart attacks increases dramatically during the first two weeks of our annual switch to Daylight Savings Time every Spring.
In addition, the Journal of Sleep has reported that the adjustment of sleep patterns is greatly disrupted during the switching of back and forth for our Daylight Savings Time. I hope that changing the official time of Georgia will help propel the U.S. Congress to make a permanent switch to Daylight Savings Time. This bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
We unanimously passed the Max Gruver Act (Senate Bill 85), legislation that would revise the definition of hazing and make the hazing of minors a felony with a fine of up to $50,000. S.B. 85 would punish those who fail to render reasonable assistance and offer protection to those who act in good faith and in a timely manner regarding hazing. Colleges and universities would also be required to provide public reports of hazing violations to ensure transparency.
Fill free reach out to me by phone or email, at (404) 656-7880 or email@example.com.