Around the District
In Atlanta, William Ligon will be
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On Friday, June 26th, the General Assembly adjourned, Sine Die. Over the course of the 40-day session, the Senate spent hours debating legislation in committee meetings and on the Senate floor, in order to produce the most precise language in all of the bills that were passed. Below are several bills I would like to highlight.
• Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 426, the Hate Crimes Bill, into law. HB 426 will allow judges to add additional penalties during sentencing if crimes are committed due to a victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery brought this issue to the forefront once the legislature reconvened. Georgia is no longer one of the few states without a hate crimes bill.
• The legislature also passed House Bill 838, the “Peace Officers Bill of Rights.” This bill allows officers to seek civil damages in instances when a claim is brought against them. This protects first responders and their families from actions outside of the job that are related to explicit bias. When first responders are victimized due to their employment status, HB 838 allows for additional penalties to criminals during their sentencing. Crimes against first responders have risen over the years, and it’s important we have legislation in place to offer protection.
• I am proud to say Senate Bill 38 was officially passed. This legislation allows voters to have the final say on whether or not a county police department will be dissolved and its assets and functions to then be transferred to the local sheriff. SB 38 ties in with my previously passed bill, Senate Bill 504, which, as a reminder, provides a non-binding referendum to voters. SB 38 takes the next step by allowing voters to determine if their decision at the ballot box should be final. This effort was begun due to the Glynn County Grand Jury's findings of misconduct in the Glynn County Police Department taking place over the past few years.
• Additionally, Senate Resolution 546 was also passed out of the House. SR 546 encourages law enforcement officers, families of psychiatric patients, doctors, and therapists to purchase and freely distribute Mental Health Alert Wristbands to those with mental health disabilities. These wristbands will allow first responders to be able to quickly recognize if an individual is in need of medical assistance. Sometimes, mental health symptoms can create behaviors that can be considered out-of-control and even dangerous, and this legislation helps to protect those individuals.
• The Georgia General Assembly passed a $26 billion Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget. While the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 has caused state agencies to make steep cuts, my colleagues in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees worked hard to ensure that we identified innovative solutions to protect the most vulnerable citizens in our state. The budget has reduced spending by $2.2 billion, which is substantially less than the Senate and House Appropriations Committees had been contemplating. The smaller reduction of 11 percent, as opposed to 14 percent, will allow us to cancel the originally planned furlough days for state employees, including teachers, and restore reductions that had been slated for behavioral and public health, public safety, agriculture, rural hospitals, and child welfare services. Additionally, the Georgia legislature voted to cut member salaries by 10% beginning on July 1, while Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan has volunteered to cut his salary by 14%.
• House Bill 877 provides a more uniform inspection and licensing law regarding the operation of golf carts or similar vehicles on our roadways. Those living in the Golden Isles appreciate the freedom of golf cart driving, and this law should help clarify which vehicles are legally able to operate on the roads. Even so, local ordinances will continue to control which roads will be open to these slower vehicles so that traffic flow is not impeded.
• House Bill 907 allows war veterans who served between January 1, 1947 and June 26, 1950 to reside and be cared for in the Georgia State War Veterans’ Home. There are two skilled nursing care homes for eligible war veterans located in Georgia. One is in Augusta, and the other is in Milledgeville. The mission of these homes is to provide high-quality nursing care to veterans who have sacrificed so much to serve our great country. This legislation simply extends eligibility to more veterans.
• House Resolution 1300 renames Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park as Jack Hill State Park, in recognition of the late Senator Jack Hill (R - Reidsville). As many of you may know, Sen. Hill passed away earlier this year. At the time of his death, he was the longest-serving Georgia State Senator. Sen. Hill was one of the most selfless public servants I have ever known, and this park will serve in remembrance of him.
• House Bill 799 prohibits someone who is convicted of driving under the influence of a controlled substance or marijuana from obtaining a limited driving permit and early reinstatement of his or her license. This legislation seeks to keep impaired drivers off the road to create a safer Georgia.
• Additionally, the Senate passed House Bill 167, which would give more protection to businesses by shielding them from being sued if someone were to blame them for contracting COVID-19.
• House Bill 823 will establish a lifetime disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for those convicted of human trafficking. Often times, these victims are trafficked using commercial motor vehicles. This bill is one way to help eliminate human trafficking.
• House Bill 888, the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, also passed. This legislation provides safeguards against surprise billing by delineating an arbitration process between health insurers and providers. Surprise billing happens when an insured patient encounters an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility during a medical appointment. A few weeks later, the patient then receives a surprise bill, or a bill for a number of charges not covered by the insurer. This legislation seeks to protect patients from these types of unwelcome surprises, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.
I want to thank every person and agency involved in helping make this legislative session possible. While this was unlike any session before, I believe that our perseverance and patience in the process has led to good results. It has been an honor to serve you, District 3. Thank you for allowing me to be your voice at the Capitol and making my time here so unforgettable.