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Ben Watson: Senate passes bills to help Georgia’s vets
Ben Watson
Sen. Ben Watson

Sen. Ben Watson


The Georgia General Assembly is roaring to the finish line of the 40-day session. We completed day 25 last week and have a mere 15 legislative days to finish several key items, including the 2024-2025 Fiscal Year Budget. 

The state Senate approved a $37.5 billion midyear budget and was moved toward the reconciliation of differences between the House budget and the Senate’s version. That budget legislation that reconciled the 2023-2024 mid-year budget includes $1,000 one-time pay supplements for Georgia teachers, state workers and University System of Georgia employees. The spending plan contains $5 billion in new spending, $2 billion of which would come out of an unprecedented $16 billion budget surplus. Besides the pay supplements, the midyear budget also takes advantage of the healthy surplus by funding more than $1.1 billion in capital projects for the first time in memory with cash rather than bonds.

Included in this budget is $178 million for a new dental school at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus in Savannah. Also included was $110,000 to add visible watermarks to paper ballots, as well as tentative approval to $5 million for new paper ballots that no longer rely on QR codes. The latter item will have to be worked out by negotiators appointed to the joint House-Senate conference committee as they craft the final version of the midyear budget. The Georgia Senate is committed to securing your vote. As I have stated before, the role of government is promoting private projects and helping with infrastructure. Almost $1.5 billion was put in the budget relating to existing projects already in the pipeline such as resurfacing of local roads, freight and truck infrastructure projects, and local transportation infrastructure projects. Of course, with the growth we enjoy in southeast Georgia, this is ever so important. It’s also important to remember that these are not bonded projects: we are paying down some bonds to save on interest.

The Georgia General Assembly is committed to reducing and eliminating debt. In addition, we are further accelerating the rate of reduction of the state income tax. And we have returned to taxpayers’ excessive income tax monies collected over the past two years as well as reduced homeowner property taxes. Our goal is to continue to do both.

One of our key programs is to make Georgia more friendly to military veterans and their families. To that end, we passed a veterans legislative priority package. Senate Bills 375, 385, and 398, along with Senate Resolution 527, were all passed to help address the educational, mental health, and housing needs of Georgia’s veterans. We easily passed the package which included Senate Bill 375, adding the Commissioner of Veterans Service to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council. S.B.385 also passed, expanding degree options for Georgia Military College. S.B. 398 passed to reform the Georgia Joint Defense Commission to help grow Georgia’s defense industry, as well as S.R. 527 to establish a Senate Study Committee on Veterans Mental Health and Housing. Also passed last week was S.B. 449 legislation to exempt military medical personnel from certain requirements relating to certified nursing aids, paramedics, cardiac technicians, EMTs, and LPNs. In other words, if you are certified in other states, then your license will be expedited.

I will keep you updated on legislation affecting our community as we progress through the session. Thank you for your continued interest in the work of our General Assembly.

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 ben.watson@ I look forward to continuing to serve you.

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