By State Sen. Ben Watson, MD.
The Georgia Senate completed our sixteenth of 40 session days which are authorized by our state constitution. The session is in full swing as we passed several bills, especially important ones regarding sex-trafficking. We also completed a major hurdle with the passage of the 2021 Amended Budget.
Georgia is a national leader with many bright spots especially in conducting business, and our ports lead the east coast in cargo shipments. But one area that we also lead the nation is the scourge of human sex-trafficking. We enthusiastically passed two bills that will be instrumental in helping victims of these despicable crimes against mainly women and children.
Senate Bill 33 would allow victims of human trafficking to file a claim for a civil case against their perpetrators for damages and attorney’s fees. Victims would be allowed to pursue legal action up to ten years after the cause of action or after the victim turns 18 years old. The companion bill, S.B. 34, would allow victims of human trafficking to petition the court for a name change and keep the change under seal, as well as waive certain publication requirements. The court may later unseal the change or file a redacted version for public record. As expected, the Senate passed both of these bills and they will now be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
We completed the process of passing the 2021 Amended Budget and that has been sent to the Governor. As passed, the AFY21 budget totals $25.56 billion and addresses many of the areas where finances were reduced during last year’s budget cycle. K-12 education made up the largest single expenditure in the budget at $9.6 billion, including a $567 million restoration of funds originally cut from the original FY21 budget. We also included $40 million to procure 520 new school buses, which function not only as transportation for students but also serve the vital purposes of delivering lunches to children in rural areas and serving as Wi-Fi hotspots. To assist with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, $27 million was allocated to the Department of Public Health to revamp and modernize their IT infrastructure and public health surveillance technology.
Thank you for your continued 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 ben.watson@senate. ga.gov. I look forward to this session and serving all of you.
Watson represents all of Bryan County.