By: Sen. Burt Jones (R – Jackson)

The sixth week of the 2018 legislative session has come to an end. This week we passed 20 bills, proving our busiest week yet. We are more than halfway through, having completed 22 legislative days, and now we work towards Crossover Day.

I was able to introduce several special guests to the Senate this week. Tuesday, students from Jackson High School were in the gallery as part of Family and Consumer Sciences Day at the Capitol. It was great to see them and welcome them to the Capitol, as well as recognize the accomplishments of our many family and consumer sciences programs in our schools and universities.

Thursday, I had the pleasure of welcoming Otis Redding, Jr.’s family to the Senate in honor of Otis Redding, Jr. Day at the Capitol. Redding grew up in our district and rose to prominence in the Macon music scene in the 1960’s. He is known for his most famous song, “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay,” as well as numerous other hits that are still popular today. In addition to his musical successes, he was a trailblazer against segregation and promoted education initiatives in the United States.

Of the 20 bills we vetted and passed this week, four of those came out of the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) Task Force which met and worked relentlessly during the interim. Senate Bill 366 would require local governments to collect and send pay data for local law enforcement to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) on a yearly basis. DCA will compile and analyze the data and then report their findings back to the local governments, who will use the report to adopt a guidance pay scale. SB 367, which I cosponsored, would expand the list of qualifying individuals that receive a state indemnification payment to include their estate. SB 367 also outlines that the indemnification would be a one-time payment specifically made for a law enforcement officer who is killed in the line of duty. SB 368 will provide technical support for officers by working with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and SB 369 requires a $5 pre-trial diversion fee paid into the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund. Our law enforcement officers put their lives in the line of danger daily, and I am pleased that both parties could come together to support something so important to the vitality of our healthy communities.

Sen. Steve Gooch’s broadband bill, SB 402, also known as the Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act, which I mentioned in last week’s update, has passed out of committee. Under SB 402, high-speed broadband access would be expanded to rural areas across the state. Internet access impacts nearly all aspects of life, from education to healthcare to business and it is vital that rural Georgia keeps pace with our urban areas when it comes to broadband access and speed.

Also on Thursday, the Amended Fiscal Year (FY18) Budget was presented and approved. One of the biggest additions to the budget was $25.1 million to expand runway lengths at 11 rural regional airports. Infrastructure and forms of transportation are essential to improving business and economic development opportunities for rural areas and by increasing the size of runways, we can ensure that larger planes can safely land. This will allow these opportunities to flourish and I look forward to what this will bring to rural areas across our state. The AFY18 budget will now go back to the House so they can review the changes made by the Senate.

As you can see, the pace at the Capitol has picked up quickly and we are going to add even move legislation to the calendar for debate on the Senate Floor as we approach Crossover Day, which will fall on February 27. I encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns. I am here to serve you and my door is always open.

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