Legislators drop budget recess week

[private]Georgia lawmakers are dropping one of their longstanding traditions for this new legislative session: the scheduling of a budget recess for the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

There will be only one day off for budget hearings by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees: Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The following Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be treated as regular legislative days: number six, seven, and eight on the 40-day calendar.

During the week after that, Jan. 25 – 28 will bring legislators up to Day 12 on the calendar, with Day 13 scheduled for Feb. 1.

The compressed calendar is part of an effort by the leadership to get the session finished quickly so that lawmakers can start campaigning for May 24 primary elections. Adjournment day will be March 24.

Monday was the first day of the 2016 General Assembly session and both chambers did little outside of routine, ceremonial activities.

Lawmakers are expected to deal with an unusually robust lineup of issues this session.

Typically, the second session of a two-year term is handled quickly and quietly because legislators have to run for reelection and want to avoid drawn-out arguments and controversies.

But this year, several issues are hanging out there that could spark disagreements between Republican legislators and a governor with whom they’ve had a fairly good working relationship.

Deal has said he doesn’t like the idea of casino gambling, but there are lawmakers who want to keep pushing on the issue anyway as a means of generating more funds for the HOPE scholarship program.

Deal has also indicated he doesn’t want to move ahead with a bill that would legalize the in-state cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, but Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) says he is determined to bring it up for a vote – and has the backing of Speaker David Ralston.

While Deal wants to see some kind of performance pay for teachers, Ralston and other lawmakers are leery of stirring up opposition among educators in an election year. A statewide poll commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also shows only 39 percent support for this issue.

Some legislators are also cross-ways with Deal’s revenue department over the way it administered a bill passed last year to open the door to some retail sales for craft brewers of beer. Ralston has said if the revenue department won’t revise its rules to restore the bill’s intention, “I’ll be glad to support a legislative initiative that does that for them.”

The issue that could generate the most media coverage is religious freedom, where the state’s major corporations are opposing passage of a bill they fear could be used to discriminate against gays. The bill’s supporters have vowed they keep trying to work it through the process.

On a lighter note, two lawmakers are trying to derail the gravy train that has delivered a steady stream of high-paying state jobs to legislators during the Deal administration.

Rep. David Stover (R-Newnan) and Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) have introduced bills that would prohibit the appointment of legislators to state jobs within one or two years after they leave the General Assembly.

Deal has appointed at least six state senators and 10 House members to state jobs or judgeships since 2011, a practice that Stover and McKoon want to end.

They admit their chances of success are slim.

“Yes, the bill is likely dead, but the fight needs to be had,” Stover said on Facebook.

“It is time for the State of Georgia to bring real ethics back into the legislative process,” Stover said. “The governor pays people back for carrying the controversial bills — and for people’s voting records — by appointing them to a state office.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: 2016 session , budget recess , General Assembly