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Sen. Ben Watson's update from the State Capitol (week of March 25)
Ben Watson
Sen. Ben Watson

We are quickly nearing the end of a productive session with adjournment scheduled for Tuesday, April 2. This week we fulfilled our state constitutional mandate of passing the Fiscal Year 2020 General Budget to begin July 1, 2019. The budget includes $20 million to expand the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, which will fuel both local and state economic development and tourism.

Another significant feature of the budget includes a $3,000 pay raise beginning July 1st for Georgia’s teachers and other certified school personnel, including counselors and librarians. State employees, Board of Regents faculty and employees, and non-certified school personnel will also receive a 2% increase. The budget is an extensive document and we worked hard to pass a fiscally responsible, balanced budget for the good of our state.

I sponsored a bill authorizing the Board of Natural Resources to declare rules and regulations regarding anchoring certain vessels inside estuarine areas of the state and giving authority to the Department of Natural Resources to establish anchorage areas. This bill allows for further oversight by the Department and works to offer further inspection of sewage discharge by live-aboard vessels. This legislation was passed by the Senate Friday and will now move to the Governor’s desk.

Improving education was a central focus of this legislative session. HB 530 creates a safeguard for children who are victims of abuse, as in the case of the Crocker family. It adds an extra protection if a parent or guardian withdraw a child from public school without a Declaration of Intent to homeschool. If a child fails to attend school for 45 days, the school will be authorized to contact the Division of Family and Children Services for an assessment to be made of the child's safety. This bill was written with input from many agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services, the educational community and the Georgia Home School Education Association and is on Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

Other bills addressing education include HB 266 which raises the allowable state income tax deduction for contributions to the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan from $2,000 to $4,000. In addition, SB 167 allows for DFCS to stop considering a relative of a child as a placement option if they have failed to demonstrate an interest in and willingness to provide a permanent home for a child for a period of six months. This bill allows for a child who has been with his or her caregivers for a period of 12 months to be allowed to remain in their care if it is in the child's best interest. Each of these bills is good legislation for Georgia’s families and are in the best interest of our school children.

Please know that your input continues to be valuable to me as the session approaches adjournment. I encourage you to contact me at or at 404-656-7880

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