When legislators launched this year’s episode of the General Assembly, they were determined to get the session completed quickly so they could start campaigning for those early primary elections on May 20.
It appears that they really meant what they said. Barely a month after the session convened on Jan. 13, lawmakers are already past the halfway point of the 40-day session and pushing hard towards an adjournment date in the middle of March.
Mother Nature is even giving them an assist. The recent snowstorm that shut down metro Atlanta suspended legislative activity for two days, but those days were still counted as part of the official calendar.
Here’s one example of how quickly legislators are speeding up the process.
The General Assembly adopts two budgets in each session. The first is a “supplemental budget” that makes routine adjustments in state spending for the current fiscal year, such as giving additional money to local school systems to handle student enrollment growth.
Last year, the House and Senate completed their initial votes on the supplemental budget by Feb. 22 (it takes a week or two after that for differences in the two versions of the bill to be reconciled). This year, the two chambers completed their initial votes on this measure by Feb. 6, more than two weeks earlier.
The speed with which lawmakers voted on the supplemental budget is proof they are truly serious about an early adjournment.
One of the benefits of a faster session is that fewer controversial bills are debated and passed, thus keeping some unnecessary laws out of the state code.
While many of the bills our lawmakers sponsor are well-reasoned pieces of legislation, a lot of silly junk gets out there as well.
The late Bobby Franklin, who sponsored dozens of nutty bills as a lawmaker, once proposed a measure requiring the state to pay its bills in gold or silver coins. Georgians would have had to pay their state taxes with the same kind of currency.
There was one little problem with Franklin’s bill, however. Georgia spends and takes in more than $18 billion annually, which means there would not have been enough gold and silver available to pay out that much money each year.
As one publication noted at the time:
“It would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for Georgia’s economy. Among other things, the U.S. Mint simply does not make very many gold and silver coins — the Mint has even suspended sales of precious medal coins when demand rises above very low levels — so it is unlikely that enough coins even exist to allow Georgia taxpayers to pay more than a fraction of their tax obligations if they are required to do so in U.S. minted gold or silver.”
Fortunately for Georgia’s economy, that bill never passed. The short session that lawmakers are working this year makes it less likely that such harebrained ideas will get a vote.
There are always exceptions, of course.
The House of Representatives is working on a bill that would expand the state’s gun carry laws to allow firearms on the premises of churches, bars, K-12 schools and many government buildings. There’s also a provision that could potentially open the door to guns on college campuses.
One section of the bill says that a governor cannot issue an executive order during a state of emergency to confiscate firearms and ammunition.
When he was discussing that particular provision in committee, Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) explained: "This part is dedicated to Bobby Franklin."
It may be time for Georgia citizens to start worrying.
Gov. Nathan Deal was a little squeamish about the idea of putting guns on college campuses full of binge-drinking students, so he and the Senate leadership worked behind the scenes last year to kill a similar gun bill.
Deal could be even more squeamish about the issue this year, because he’s in the middle of a re-election campaign and polls show that a majority of Georgians oppose the idea of putting firearms on college campuses.
If anything can knock legislators off course in their efforts to adjourn early, it would be because they got caught in a crossfire on the gun bill. Let’s see if they can hold their fire.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.