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March 2--  Qualifying for this year's elections starts Monday and Senator Blake Tillery of Vidalia confirms his intention to seek re-election to his second term of office.  Here is his weekly report from the current General Assembly session in Atlanta.

With the completion of the Crossover Day, we will have officially met our first major deadline. From here on out, much of our focus will be on House bills and ensuring that amended Senate bills have been changed to best benefit the people of Georgia. While we heard 41 pieces of legislation on Crossover Day, one of the most important bills that we will hear all year, and arguably the most important in a decade, was passed on the Senate floor and transmitted to the House. House Bill 918, an overhaul of the Internal Revenue Code, was then sent to the Governor for his approval.

This bill is big news for everyone in Georgia as it would double the standard deduction for filers of all statuses and lowers the top income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.75 percent in 2019 and 5.5 percent in 2020, pending the General Assembly’s approval. Here are a few examples of what that could mean for you: families of four with a household income of $50,000 a year could see a 16 percent reduction in taxes, families of four making $75,000 could see a 12.5 percent reduction and families of four making $150,000 could see a 10 percent reduction in income taxes. This will save taxpayers $5 billion over the next five years. This means that this tax cut truly benefits the middle class and puts money back into your pockets. I am happy to support this measure.

Senate Bill 82 would expand the eligibility for the HOPE scholarship to members of the Georgia National Guard and reservists in Georgia who meet certain residency criteria.

Senate Bill 376 would prevent credit reporting agencies from having the ability to charge for credit freezes.

Senate Bill 406 would enact the Georgia Long-term Care Background Check Program and create the Central Caregiver Registry. The bill repeals the existing background check requirements for owners, operators, employees and potential employees at long-term care facilities by creating a new background check process, which includes a criminal background check done by the Department of Community Affairs.

Senate Bill 422 would allow pharmacists at licensed clinical laboratory locations to administer and perform over the counter tests or screenings that are otherwise publicly available.

Senate Bill 452 would require arresting officers to report to the prosecuting attorney if the individual in custody is an unlawful resident. The bill also gives more authority to courts to determine the legal status of arrested individuals.

Senate Bill 458 would allow family owned farms who wish to discontinue Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) agreements to do so at a reduced penalty if certain conditions are met.

Several bills to expand rural broadband passed the Senate this week. This is the beginning of expanding this service to under served areas of the state and I look forward to looking at any other legislation that brings ideas about this topic to the table. And while these bills did pass, I voted “no” on 426 because I did not see where it would immediately benefit our area.

Senate Bill 232 would expand access to public rights of way and set regulations for Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) wishing to deploy broadband services, VoIP or wireless services. EMCs who are currently offering the services like the two in north Georgia would be grandfathered in under this legislation.

Senate Bill 335 would expand the offense of sex trafficking to include knowingly patronizing a person to conduct sexually explicit content and clarifies that the punishment for that offense is five to 20 years if the individual who was patronized is 16 years of age or older upon conviction.

Senate Bill 359 would increase transparency in medical billing by requiring hospitals and physicians to clearly post notices and standard charges on their respective websites. The bill would require insurers to provide enrollees with criteria for in-network and out-of-network coverage. The legislation would also allow the mediation of a bill greater than $1,000 for an elective medical procedure. This is another attempt to counter surprise billing, which is when you are billed for services that you did not know were out-of-network.

Senate Bill 385 would change surcharge fees for municipal solid waste disposal facilities operated by a private company from $1.00 to $3.00 per ton. Under SB 385, a new code section would be added, enabling the change to the surcharge fee and the effective date would be adjusted from January 1, 1992, to July 1, 2018. This is an attempt to limit out-of-state trash by making it more expensive to dump trash in Georgia.

Senate Bill 444, also known as the “Senator Thorborn ‘Ross’ Tolleson, Jr. Act,” would create the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia State Plan Advisory Council. Under SB 444, the makeup of the 17-member council is outlined along with its duties. Many people across our state suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and this council will help us to better understand the disease and ways we can help Georgians who suffer from it and their families.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this legislation of any legislation crossing over to our chamber over the next few weeks!