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Sen. Ben Watson: Senate tries to put brakes on rising property taxes
Ben Watson
Sen. Ben Watson

Sen. Ben Watson

Georgia’s 2024 legislative session completed its midpoint this past week. As usual, the second half of the session will be much more active and intense than the first as we must complete our constitution mandate within a total of 40 legislative days. We fully expect to pass the mid-year Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget this week, with the sub-committee chairs on the Appropriations Committee turning their focus on the 2024-2025 fiscal year budget.

In an effort to ensure that parents of minors and students retain final decision making and authority over the teaching of their children, the Senate passed Senate Bill 88. The bill has passed out of the Senate Education and Youth Committee and, if it becomes law, schools will not be permitted to implement curriculum or instruction addressing “issues of gender identity, queer theory, gender ideology or gender transition” without first getting written permission from a parent. Schools that are operated by a religious institution are exempt to the extent that the requirements would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the institutions. Public school boards would have until Jan. 1 to come up with policies regarding parental involvement on issues of gender identity and gender transition, including what to do when a child brings up questions about their gender identity and when to notify parents and refer to a professional.

The bill also prevents schools from accepting a change to a child’s records based on a gender transition or change in the child’s gender identity without written consent from each of the child’s parents.

I believe that, regardless of ideology or differences on these issues, parental authority and decision making must be preserved.

Government institutions should not overtake parental awareness and decision making on these issues.

Another of the priorities of Senate Republicans has been Senate Bill 349, creating a statewide floating homestead exemption much like we have in Chatham County with the Stephens-Day property tax law. I am pleased to say that SB 349 passed this week by an overwhelming 42-7 vote. This legislation prevents large tax increases resulting from rapidly increasing property values. This legislation especially affects Bryan County and Liberty County and, on a limited basis as well, Chatham County. This legislation prevents large, sudden tax increases due to rapidly increasing property values related to local property taxes including the county, municipality, and education millage rates — what Stephens-Day does already for Chatham County property taxes.

We continue to work to dismantle legislation that creates an onerous burden on Georgians, and as updated language related to COVID-era signage by businesses.

SB 430 does away with certain signage requirements that limited protection from liability from COVID-related lawsuits for businesses. While the signs may now disappear, it does not change the limited protection from liability that businesses have related to COVID-19 infections.

Senate Resolution 470 also passed the Senate this week, forming a study committee on the preservation of Georgia’s farmlands.

From 1974 through 2016, Georgia lost approximately 2,600,000 acres of land for crops, hay and pastureland. The committee will evaluate farmland protection measures implemented in other states, seek economic advice and tax policy recommendations from experts, and then make a recommendation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

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) 6567880, and my email is I look forward to continuing to serve you.

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