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Senate addresses failing schools, marsh buffer and reglious freedom
Legislative update
Ben Watson

The Georgia Senate voted on many bills as “crossover” day, or day 30, loomed (Editor’s note: Crossover day was Friday). Day 30 is significant because bills that do not go to the House after day 30 or “crossover day” will not become law this session.
The biggest bill we debated that will affect the entire state is the Governor’s Opportunity School District proposal. It required two pieces of legislation, the first being a Senate resolution calling for a constitutional amendment and, secondly, enabling legislation. SR 287 proposes a constitutional amendment, establishing the OSD to be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters, and passed, 38-15. If passed by the House, the amendment will appear on the 2016 general-election ballot.
The enabling legislation, Senate Bill 133, would kick in should voters ratify the legislation. SB 133 will establish a statewide school district, OSD, to intervene and improve failing schools. The bill designates failing schools as those scoring below 60 for three years in a row on the College and Career Performance Index, which is Georgia’s current rating system for school performance. The governor will appoint a superintendent, subject to the Senate’s confirmation, to oversee the OSD in its work to improve failing schools.
Four intervention models are outlined in the legislation, allowing the OSD to either directly manage the schools, close them or partner with local school districts to run them or convert them into charter schools.
One bill that is especially important to the Coastal Empire is SB 101, which I co-sponsored. This legislation will establish a 25-foot coastal marshland buffer in an effort to protect the state’s coastline. SB 101 prohibits land-disturbing activities within the buffer and allows the Board of Natural Resources to adopt rules and regulations that provide an expedited process for erosion control. SB 101 passed, 46-4. This legislation is designed to protect the marsh which is the breeding area for shrimp and a variety of fish, and acts to protect our creeks and rivers. The bill balances property ownership and environmental concerns while allowing appropriate use of the area.
In an effort to move many of our schools into the digital era, we passed SB 89, 45-8. This legislation will encourage all instructional material purchased by a local board of education to be in a digital or electronic format by July 1, 2020. SB 89 will aid funding for local boards of education based on appropriations by the State Board of Education.
Regarding religious freedom, the Senate passed the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. SB 129 restores a higher standard for the state government to restrict the free exercise of religion. It provides that the government has to show a compelling interest as to why its policy should override an individual’s religious freedom.
Your input is important to me and I encourage you to contact me with your concerns as this legislative session continues. I can be reached by calling 404-656-7880 or or emailing Thank you for allowing me to represent you in the Senate.

Watson is a Savannah Republican whose District 1 covers most of Liberty County.

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