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Lawmakers start 2017 session with work to do
Senate report
Ben Watson
Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, represents Bryan County in the Georgia Senate. - photo by File photo

On Monday, the Georgia General Assembly began the 2017 session and I am honored that you place trust in me to represent you in the Senate again this year.

Please know that I take this responsibility very seriously and consider each piece of legislation with the betterment of our community in mind.

A very broad range of issues will be deliberated that could affect our health, education, employment opportunities, safety and economy. I’ll mention a few areas in this article that may see legislative action this session and are of particular importance to our area.

We have all come to know that taxes are inevitable, but the system should not be overly cumbersome or burdensome for either businesses or individuals.

A Senate subcommittee on tax reform was created to hear concerns from citizens across the state and from those discussions, it’s likely that legislation will be drafted that could include lowering the income tax rate as well as reforming incentives given to Georgia businesses. I will be tracking this possibility with great interest.

As we all know, our state cannot thrive without educated citizens and excellent teachers.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission has been working on recommendations on many areas including teacher recruitment and retention, retirement, early childhood education and school choice. The governor also created a Teachers’ Advisory Committee that provided feedback in several areas of concern. Legislation may be introduced based on the recommendations of the commission and the Teachers’ Advisory Committee that may impact our education system.

Regarding higher education, the cost of college tuition is a concern for many families. Currently, HOPE scholarships only cover a percentage of a students’ tuition as determined by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, and the state does not offer need-based aid. Often, the average student in Georgia is still left with financial debt even after paying for college with grants, scholarships, loans, HOPE scholarships and Pell grants. The Higher Education Affordability Study Committee was established in the 2016 legislative session and this committee will study and analyze the rising cost of tuition, varying federal and state funding and fluctuating needs-based grant aid to ensure affordable tuition for Georgians. If legislation comes from this research, I will report back to you.

Transportation may also be on the legislative agenda as a region-wide transit system may be considered. Georgia is home to the world’s busiest airport, the nation’s 10th largest road system, and the fastest growing container port in the United States. In the 2016 legislative sessions a study committee was formed to determine what role a region-wide transit system would play in mitigating congestion. Legislation may be introduced in the 2017 session based on those recommendations. Although this may sound like it would only apply to the Atlanta marea, this type of system would have a domino effect on outlying communities and Savannah would be indirectly affected because of our busy port.

As the session commences, I’ll keep you informed each week about our deliberations and upcoming legislation. As always, your input is important to me. Please feel free to contact me at or at 404-656-7880 with your questions and concerns. Thank you for allowing me to serve you!

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