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Senate ends session with budget bill
Ben Watson
Sen. Ben Watson

The 154th General Assembly has officially come to completion and it was a great honor to represent you in the state Senate again this year. We worked many long hours last week and passed important bills that will have a broad impact on our state.

The most significant legislation is often passed in the final days of the session because it takes the careful deliberation of different perspectives to produce legislation that will be most beneficial and effective.

We passed a fiscally sound FY 2019 budget, and Gov. Deal left his mark in his last legislative session as governor by fully funding the Quality Basic Education formula with the addition of $194.7 million to the budget. This is a great benefit for Georgia’s students while still maintaining a responsible and balanced budget.

Other highlights include $16 million in school safety bonds to assist with the implementation of school safety plans, funds for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation task force in the battle against drug abuse and rural economic development initiatives of approximately $40 million.

To read HB 684 in its entirety, please go to

I carried House Bill 647, which would direct the Department of Community Health to create a two-year pilot program to study obesity by working with postsecondary institutions to study management treatment techniques and billing costs. Five hundred participants may apply for the program each year and the department would provide a final report to the General Assembly for further review.

I was pleased that HB 647 passed with a vote of 49-1 as I believe that this legislation will help Georgians who struggle with this condition.

I also carried House Bill 657, which would increase the penalties for individuals who attempt to obtain a firearm outside of the legal purchasing process. This bill states that an individual who intentionally provides a firearm to another person who has been convicted of a felony or is on felony probation, would be guilty of a felony and will be imprisoned between one and five years. A second conviction would result in imprisonment between five and 10 years.

Because distracted driving while using technology has become such a hazard on the road, House Bill 673 passed unanimously, which would prohibit holding electronic communication devices, reading electronic communications or watching, recording or broadcasting video while driving. Exceptions would exist for voice-to-text messaging, built-in navigation systems and back-up cameras.

Under HB 673, each violation would count as a separate offense with the first, second and third offenses resulting in fines of $50, $100 and $150, respectively. However, first offenders would not receive any penalty if they produce to the court proof of purchase of a hands-free device that complies with the law.

I believe that this is common sense legislation that will ultimately save lives on Georgia’s roadways.

These are just a few of the many bills that were passed, and next week I will highlight more of the work that was accomplished in a wrap-up of the legislative session.

Please know that every decision that I made while at the capitol was with our district in mind and with careful consideration for your family, job and future. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve you!

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