Sen. Ben Watson, Guest columnist
As many of you read this, the Georgia General Assembly is in its final two days of their 2023 legislative session. We spent a lot of time over the last few days trying to ensure the most important legislation would see a final vote, and if passed, send it to the Governor for his decision.
We also spent time in our committees reviewing legislation and amendments.
The final, 40th day of the legislature was Wednesday, March 29.
The Fiscal Year 20232024 budget has passed the Senate. This $32.4 billion dollar budget funds 100 percent of the HOPE Scholarships, provides $2,000 cost of living raises to state employees and teachers, and further supports our state agencies.
Certified state law enforcement officers will see a raise of between $4,000 and $6,000 a year. For Savannah, $1,690,000 was set aside for the development of a new medical campus building at Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus. There are some differences between the House version and the Senate version, and the reconciliation process is underway to iron out the differences for final passage.
I also carried three legislative initiatives for passage in the Senate. Most importantly, in support of local police departments in Savannah, Garden City and Port Wentworth, the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 35. This legislation is designed to protect our critical infrastructure overseen by the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), including the Port of Savannah.
House Bill 35 would give the GPA’s security employees the ability to preserve and protect its properties, projects and certain areas surrounding its coastal campuses. Specifically, GPA security personnel and peace officers would have the authority to investigate criminal incidents and handle traffic offenses within one mile of their properties including making arrests and controlling and investigating pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents. This legislation would also support the surrounding communities by allowing local law enforcement to dedicate less resources to this state authority’s operations and easing some of the burden on local law enforcement that comes with having such a successful port system along our coast. Local municipalities impacted by the port system have also expressed their support for HB 35, and this legislation will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
Another important issue that we are spending a lot of time addressing is behavioral health. I led the Senate in passing H.B.
414, legislation that would provide grants within the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to provide behavioral health services to our military, our veterans, and their families. The Safer Hospitals Act, H.B.
383, passed overwhelmingly. This legislation would enhance penalties for aggravated assault and battery committed upon emergency health workers and health care workers in their official capacity.
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 email@example.com.
I look forward to continuing to serve you.