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 firstname.lastname@example.org
After a nearly three-month pause from the legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly has officially reconvened under the Gold Down to pass important legislation and a balanced budget. As I mentioned in earlier columns, the legislative session was suspended in March due to COVID-19 concerns. As we return to Capitol, several measures have been taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. Increased sanitation and social distancing measures have been taken in the Senate Chamber and the Senate Committee rooms. The same precautions have been taken by the House. Additionally, infrared body temperature scanners have been placed at the entrances of the Capitol, and those with a fever will not be permitted to enter.
With that said, elected officials have jumped right back into the swing of things and are hard at work passing important bills and the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget. As state legislators, we have a constitutional duty to maintain and pass a balanced budget, meaning the government cannot spend more money than it collects in revenues. On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to pass the FY 2021 budget using an estimate developed with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to make spending cuts of 11%, or approximately $2.6 billion. This budget will look significantly different than the one we had originally intended on before the coronavirus pandemic nearly brought our economy to a halt. We are facing tough times, and there will be steep cuts that touch nearly every service and program in Georgia. Please know that my colleagues in the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have been working with great care to allocate resources that best serve the interests of our state’s citizens.
This week, the Senate also passed several House bills. The first I’d like to discuss is House Bill 823, which would establish a lifetime disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for those convicted of human trafficking. Often times, these victims are trafficked using commercial motor vehicles. This bill is one way to help eliminate human trafficking.
House Bill 888, the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, also passed this week. This legislation provides safeguards against surprise billing by delineating an arbitration process between health insurers and providers. Surprise billing happens when an insured patient encounters an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility during a medical appointment. A few weeks later, the patient then receives a surprise bill, or a bill for a number of charges not covered by the insurer. This legislation seeks to protect patients from these types of unwelcome surprises, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.
Over in the House, I was pleased to see that lawmakers voted 152-3 to advance Senate Bill 504, my legislation that would allow voters to decide whether or not to transfer the assets and functions of the Glynn County Police Department to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office. This legislation was originally drafted due to the Grand Jury’s findings about the misconduct taking place in the Glynn County Police Department. However, it was the recent case of Ahmaud Arbery which has so clearly shown to my fellow lawmakers that this legislation needed to be passed immediately. This particular bill is a nonbinding referendum; however, I also have legislation which would allow voters the final say rather than allowing the county commission the final decision. I hope it will be passed as well.
As always, when considering any legislation, I will seek to put your best interests at the forefront of my decision-making. It is an honor to represent you under the Gold Dome, and I will try to keep you updated as we continue the final days of the 2020 Legislative Session.