The Senate has officially reconvened after suspending in March to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

State legislators are excited to be back to pass legislation that is important to you and a balanced budget. As we head back to the Capitol, several steps have to been taken to ensure a safe return. Increased sanitation stations and social distancing measures have been taken in the Senate Chamber and the Senate committee rooms, and infrared body temperature scanners have been placed in the entrances of the Capitol to ensure those with a fever do not enter and are directed to a medical tent.

On June 17, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 budget using an estimate developed with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to make spending cuts of 11 percent, or approximately $2.6 billion. Final budget recommendations won’t be heard until this week.

The FY2021 budget will look significantly different than the one we previously intended on in the spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought our economy nearly to a halt. While these cuts are not ideal, please know my colleagues in the Senate and the House Appropriations committees have been working tirelessly to allocate resources that best protect the interests of the state. We have been considering many possible ways when deciding to have effective cuts, such as eliminating landlines and becoming more digital to eliminate paper goods.

Additionally, the Senate passed several House bills last week. The first bill I’d like to highlight is House Bill 888, the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, which provides consumer protection against surprise billing by delineating an arbitration process between a maintained database of all-player claims and insurer payments. Surprise medical bills occur when an insured patient encounters an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility during their medical appointment. A few weeks later, the patient then receives a bill for a chunk of the charges not covered by the insurer, which is known as surprise billing. Patients deserve to be protected from these egregious bills, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact. For this reason, I am in strong support of this legislation.

The second bill I’d like to discuss is House Bill 426, the Hate Crimes Bill, which would give sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or physical or mental disability. This is a piece of legislation that Georgia has been needing for some time, but the pressure for this bill has been increased given recent events such as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee met Friday to vote to include first responders, which includes police officers, medics and firefighters, in this bill as well. While I agree with the Senate’s addition to the bill, I would argue that it should include other professions as well including lawyers, doctors, preachers, etc. since those individuals may be victims of hate crimes as well.

If you have any questions regarding any legislation, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. It is truly an honor to serve the 47th Senate District.

Sen. Frank Ginn serves as chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee. He represents the 47th Senate District, which includes Barrow and Madison counties and portions of Clarke and Jackson counties. He can be reached at 404-656-4700 or by email at frank.ginn@senate.ga.gov.

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