February 8, 2021 - The Georgia Senate completed our twelfth of 40 session days which are authorized by our state constitution. As the session moves into full swing several issues are coming to light. The first is restoring public confidence in our elections and the other is the funding of pandemic control and eradication.

During the 2020 national elections, many issues of voter discontent with how the Secretary of State was running elections made their way to us in the Georgia General Assembly. I have added my name to two pieces of legislation that will reestablish the process of how we allow all legal voters to cast a ballot. The first bill, Senate Bill 62, closes a security loophole by requiring the printing of the name and designation of the precinct on the top of the ballot. In addition, every ballot used in Georgia elections will be embedded with a holographic security device or seal. These devices or seals will not be capable of identifying the elector who cast the ballot.

The second bill, S.B. 67, will require voters to present an official state photo identification, such as a driver’s license or official state identification, including date of birth, in order to vote. If that is not available, a verifiable photocopy can alternatively be presented. We are committed to reestablishing integrity and faith of the election system in Georgia. We know that elections are going to be close and want to ensure that every legal vote is properly counted.

As the recently named Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair on Senate Appropriations, I am responsible for making the Senate recommendations for roughly half of the HHS budget. Public Health and Department of Behavior and Developmental Disabilities (which includes substance-abuse and mental health) are my primary responsibilities.

To help properly manage resources during the pandemic, we allocated additional funding for the Georgia Registry of Immunization Tracking and Services, or GRITS, to the supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2021. We have also provided additional funding to the vaccine management system. This additional funding will help make both systems more robust in their efforts to stay current and up to date.

Another issue that I believe should be addressed is a change in how Georgia is setting our state time. There’s great public support to permanently set Georgia’s time and not switch back-and-forth between Standard and Daylight Savings Time. The bill will set Standard Time year-round in Georgia. My hope is that support from Georgia and the surrounding states will then propel the U.S. Congress to consider a permanent switch, should they act on this nation-wide push. At that time, the bill says that we would permanently switch to Daylight Savings Time all year round.

There are public health benefits, as well as economic benefits, for Georgians to make this change. As a physician, I am aware that statistics show that the rate of heart attacks increases dramatically the first two weeks of after time changes every Spring. In addition, the Journal of Sleep has reported that the adjustment of sleep patterns is greatly disrupted during the switching of back and forth for our Daylight Savings Time.

Thank you for your continued interest in the General Assembly session. 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) 656-7880 and my email is ben.watson@senate.ga.gov. I look forward to this session and serving all of you.

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