April 12, 2021 - Georgia’s vaccine rollout is now well under way and available to all Georgians 16 and older, with millions of vaccines already having been administered. State health officials are hoping to see a continued decline in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations linked to the virus.

With a population base of over 10 million residents, 28% of Georgia’s population have received the first vaccination, with more than 14% receiving both vaccines.

Earlier this month Governor Kemp signed three executive orders to lift many of Georgia’s COVID-19 restrictions, taking the rollback to a new phase.

One of the orders, which went into effect April 8th, eliminates the ban on gatherings and shelter-in-place requirements. The order also reduces the remaining legal issues regarding distance requirements that restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and fitness classes have been required to enforce to space out their patrons.

Another aspect of the new gubernatorial order removes the ability of law enforcement to close establishments for not complying with executive order provisions.

However, with these changes, Georgians are also urged to use common sense and respect distances while in public.

The legislative delegation representing the Coastal Empire region worked together in a bipartisan fashion to successfully secure the necessary state bonds required to pay for the Savannah Trade Center expansion on Hutchinson Island. We received $70 million in the 2020 bond package and will get $90 million in the 2021 budget.

The total price tag of the expansion is expected to cost around $210 million. Our Trade and Convention Center creates a significant, positive economic impact for our community, driving business conventions and sporting competitions to the greater Savannah area. The expansion of the trade center is destined to provide employment opportunities and services contracts up and down our corridor.

Two bills regarding the use of hotel/motel taxation on organized vacation rentals by owners passed the legislature. I sponsored one of these pieces of legislation in the Senate, House Bill 317, to provide the state an updated definition of an "innkeeper." The revised definition expands the term “innkeeper” to require dealers who act as marketplace facilitators to collect and remit the local excise taxes due on rooms, lodgings, or accommodations. This legislation is designed to make hotels and motels competitive with VRBOs when it comes to equal and fair application of state and local taxes. The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature.

At the request of local officials, we also passed local legislation, H.B. 759, which essentially allows the Town of Thunderbolt the ability to levy a hotel/motel tax on VRBOs in that town. Thunderbolt currently does not have any hotels or motels.

We also named the bridge crossing the Savannah River on State Route 307. The bridge will be dedicated to Senator Johnny Isakson and officially called the Senator Johnny Isakson Bridge.

The General Assembly will meet again this fall in a Special Session called by the Governor to address the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional, legislative and local district lines to match any population changes in the state. It has been speculated that the Special Session will

be convened in the month of November, after the 2020 census results are published, though that decision is made by the Governor.

Thank you for your continued interest in the General Assembly session. As your state senator, I am here to help and assist you. Please feel free to schedule meetings with me or reach out to me by phone or email. My office phone number is (404) 656-7880 and my email is ben.watson@senate.ga.gov. I look forward to serving you.

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