William Ligon

The Senate has officially adjourned Sine Die, completing the 2019 legislative session and leaving us nine months away from the next opportunity for the legislature to meet and consider changes to our state’s laws. Over the course of the legislative session, 271 Senate bills were introduced, not counting resolutions and local bills. Of those, over 70 Senate bills were given final passage, either in the form in which they were introduced or added on to another bill, and have been sent to Governor Kemp’s desk. 

One of the most time consuming issues is always the state budget. It requires not only intense negotiations within each chamber and all their subcommittees, but it never fails that the budget must go through Conference Committee negotiations between the House and the Senate. I am pleased to report that the special funding I requested for the Woodbine Library and the Coastal Greenway in the FY 2020 General Budget was still intact at the end of that rigorous process. The appropriation for the Woodbine Library in Camden County is combined with funding for the Westtown Library in Albany. Together, the bond totals $475,000.00 for updates to the two buildings. The Greenway is addressed with a $1 million appropriation that the Coastal Regional Commission will apply for through the Outdoor Stewardship Act. In the past, the commission was successful in using these funds to double the amount of grant funding given to a specific project. We’re hopeful that will be the case here, so that the commission will secure additional funds to improve infrastructure on the Greenway. 

The Friday prior to Sine Die, the House agreed to the Senate changes to the LIFE Act, also known as the Heartbeat bill, which is perhaps the most robust pro-life measure in the nation. I expect it to be signed by the governor soon. Additionally, the House and Senate passed House Bill 321. This legislation would require hospitals to disclose certain information on their websites, including federal and state disclosures. There have been some transparency issues across our state with nonprofit hospitals paying exorbitant amounts of money to their directors, while struggling to fund indigent and patient care. By making these records available, taxpayers and citizens will better understand how their hospitals are being funded, while holding their hospital administrators accountable for any mismanagement of funds. Hospitals that do not comply with this provision would be barred from receiving state funds or funds from the Qualified Rural Hospital Organization Expense Tax Credit. Additionally, the bill makes changes related to the definition of ‘rural hospital organizations’ under the Qualified Rural Hospital Organization Expense Tax Credit and updates the fund allocation process to ensure that the hospitals in the most need are given appropriate funding. Lastly, it would extend the sunset on the Medicaid financing program, also known as the “bed tax.”

House Bill 266, which would double the income tax deductions – from $2,000.00 to $4,000.00 for per beneficiary and single filings, $4,000.00 to $8,000.00 for joint filings – allowed when making contributions to the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan, passed the Senate. This is also known as the 529 plan that many people use to build a savings account for their children’s college education. This is incredibly important as it encourages Georgians to prepare for the cost of college in a fiscally responsible manner.

On Sine Die, I carried House Bill 470, which would require that DNA samples be taken from individuals currently incarcerated or on probation for a felony charge, including those sentenced as a first offender. HB 470 also clarifies that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would purge the DNA samples of individuals who had their felony charges dismissed or upon acquittal. I am happy this bill passed as it will help solve a number of crimes, as DNA evidence is paramount to confirming someone’s guilt or innocence.

Additionally, we passed resolutions along party lines commending President Donald J. Trump and encouraging Congress to appropriate funds to secure the southern border. I know this is important to many in my area as our president has our best interests in mind and is fulfilling his promise to “Make America Great Again.”

Several of my Senate bills were given final passage, including bills I sponsored addressing the Statutes of Frauds (SB 37) and OCGA Code revisions (SB 52). Additionally, the oyster farming bill (HB 501) that I carried in the Senate was given final passage. Now that we have adjourned, Governor Kemp has until May 12th to sign or veto bills. If any bills sit on his desk past that deadline, they automatically become law. As always, it has been a pleasure to serve you, and I look forward to continuing to working on legislation for next year over the next few months!

For those interested in more details about the Shoreline Protection Act, I will discuss that in detail next week.

Sen. William Ligon Jr. serves as Chairman of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee. He represents the 3rd Senate District, which includes Brantley, Camden, Glynn, and McIntosh counties and portions of Charlton County. He can be reached by phone at 404.463.1383 or by email at william@senatorligon.com.