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State Sen. Ben Watson: Senate session nearing end
Ben Watson
State Sen. Ben Watson

State Sen. Ben Watson, MD, Guest writer.

The Georgia Senate is approaching our final days of the 2022 General Assembly session. We will be in for four legislative days this coming week and we will adjourn the legislature on legislative day 40 or “Sine Die” on Monday, April 4th.

We are very close to finalizing the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget and will have it out of its reconciliation committee soon.

I mentioned last week that the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to provide a sales tax holiday on gasoline. We easily passed House Bill 304 which would exempt the taxation of all sales of motor fuel by duly licensed distributors. This bill was signed by the Governor last week and many of us are noticing gasoline prices drop this past week. And while this bill would only save 29.1 cents per gallon, it has proven to be a step in helping everyday Georgians.

One bill that I was happy to support was fellow Savannah Representative Jesse Petrea’s bill, H.B. 1064. This bill amends the computation of taxable net income, by adding an income tax exemption of up to $17,500 of military retirement income for individuals less than 62 years of age and an additional exemption of $17,500 for individuals less than 62 years of age who have at least $17,500 of earned income.

This bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate. The Governor has already stated that if the General Assembly passes it, he will sign it into law.

One piece of legislation many of us are looking forward to stems from the Governor’s commitment to pay back excess taxes collected to the public. We very easily passed House Bill 1302, which would create a onetime tax credit for taxpayers who filed a return for both 2020 and 2021 taxable years.

Single filers would be eligible for a tax credit of $250, those filing jointly will be eligible for a credit of $500 and those filing as a head of household would be eligible for a $375 credit. Many of us will be happy to see that legislation signed by the Governor.

In the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget, we passed a bond sale for state funding of $83 million for the completion of the Savannah International Convention Center.

This will allow the build out to be finished and the ability of the greater Savannah-area to attract bigger conventions and their economic largess.

The bill also included $7.5 million for the construction of a new physical plant at Savannah State University and $2.8 million for a Science Center Lab at the Georgia Southern campus in Savannah.

The budget also contains a Medicaid Waiver adding $139.8 million to implement the state’s reinsurance program and healthcare exchange.

S.B. 106, called the “Patient First Act,” would effectively change the coverage for those seeking the state funded health program from 100% of the federal poverty level to 137%. This is an effort to meet federal requirements for funding Medicaid  to assist the neediest of our citizens.

In our effort to make our school systems more accountable to parents, the Senate passed S.B. 588 to require that all meetings of local boards of education to be open to  the public and that no member of the public may be removed from a meeting of a local board of education unless such person causes actual disruption, as prescribed by the meeting’s rules of conduct. Additionally, S.B. 588 would permit audio and video recording of all public local board of  education meetings and grant the superior courts authority to enforce compliance with this bill. 

This bill, while contentious, now goes to the House for consideration.

Thank you for your continued inter- est in the General Assembly session. I am in 325-A Coverdell  Legislative Office Building. My office phone number is (404) 656-7880 and my email is ben.

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