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Historic districts, autism bills highlight session
Legislative update
Ben Watson
State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, represents District 1, which includes parts of Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties. - photo by File photo

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned last week, and much was accomplished during a very busy session. The following are some of the bills that were agreed upon by both the House and Senate and have been sent to the governor for his approval.
The Senate approved the conference-committee report for the fiscal 2016 general budget by easily passing the conference agreements of House Bill 76 by a vote of 55-1. HB 76 appropriates $21.8 billion in state revenues for the next fiscal year starting July 1, 2015, and ending June 30, 2016. The budget is constructed on approximately 4.57 percent tax-revenue growth over the 2015 amended revenue estimate.
A bill that has significant impact on historic areas amends the current definition of a “certified structure” to include historic buildings and structures located in national historic districts or listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This bill, HB 308, was sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, in the House and was one I spoke in support of on the Senate floor. Although this legislation affects historic areas across the state, in Savannah the bill will allow the development of the western end of River Street with new businesses. Furthermore, this legislation also amends the definition of “qualified rehabilitation expenditure” to include the definition provided in the Internal Revenue Code. The Senate passed HB 308 by a vote of 40-10.  
One bill I am particularly proud that the Georgia General Assembly unanimously passed is Ava’s Law, SB 1. The Georgia General Assembly approved requiring insurance companies to cover young children with autism. Under the compromise, the autism-coverage mandate would be limited to children 6 years of age or younger. Payouts would be capped at $30,000 a year. The bill also would exempt companies with 10 or fewer employees, while insurance companies wouldn’t have to offer autism coverage if they can demonstrate it would drive up their premiums by more than 1 percent. In addition, we also passed HB 429, titled the End-of-Life Care and Required Coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorders. HB 429 sets parameters for both end-of-life care and the coverage of autism-spectrum disorders in children up to 6 years of age. The bill prohibits health-insurance plans, including Medicaid and State Health Benefit Plans, from denying coverage for or placing restrictions on end-of-life care. HB 429 also incorporates insurance guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of autism in children under 6. As it should, HB 429 unanimously passed.
Another one of the bills I sponsored in the Senate is HB 217, which expands the list of allowable investments for public retirement funds to include investments in mutual funds, commingled funds, collective-investment funds, common trusts and group trusts. HB 217 passed by a vote of 49-3. This will give these funds greater access to investments that have performed well, thus providing future retirees a stronger portfolio.
One bill that was designed for the convenience of our citizens is a two-year vehicle registration.
HB 147 is legislation that allows new passenger motor vehicles to be registered for a two-year period with a $40 registration fee. Following the initial two-year period, the vehicle will need to be registered annually. HB 147 passed by a vote of 41-1.
We also strengthened the laws for the secondary selling of metal products to metal recyclers. HB 461 clarifies the documentation a secondary metal recycler must maintain and receive to purchase secondary metals, such as copper wire and coil. The transaction must include proof of registration and a signed statement that all documentation was present at the time of the sale. HB 461 passed unanimously and is a continued response to thieves stealing air-conditioning systems and other products to get quick cash because of the value of certain metals in the world market.
Thank you for your support for me and my family as I have traveled to Atlanta. It is a privilege to represent you. I always am interested in your concerns and can be reached at 404-656-7880 or

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