Georgia lawmakers get started on a new term

[private]The Georgia General Assembly launched its latest session Monday with the usual mix of tradition and ritual at the Gold Dome.

Legislators were sworn in for their two-year terms by Court of Appeals Judges John Ellington in the House and Charlie Bethel in the Senate. Bethel was a senator himself before stepping down in November to accept the judicial appointment.

Senators reelected Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) as their president pro tem while House members reelected Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) to a fourth full term as speaker.Housevoteboard9jan2017

The House tried to make the speaker’s election a show of unity. In past sessions, the minority Democrats would run one of their caucus members as a symbolic opponent for Ralston.  This year, Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) seconded the nomination of Ralston and there was no Democratic opponent.

“He (Ralston) asked me to second his nomination as speaker,” said Smyre, the senior member of the House who’s starting his 43rd legislative session. “I agreed and I am honored to do so. It is time for us get on with the people’s business in the people’s House.”

Ralston’s election was not unanimous, however.  House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) and Reps. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville), and David Wilkerson (D-Austell) all voted no.

The same six Democrats also voted against the reelection of Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) as speaker pro tem.

Ralston noted that it was the 50th anniversary of the House gaining its independence from the governor’s office, where the governor once appointed the speaker, committee chairmen, and committee members.

That happened in January 1967, when the General Assembly voted to install Lester Maddox as governor after a controversial governor’s race with Republican Bo Callaway. The price of Maddox getting the governor’s office was for the Legislature to get the power to name its own leaders.

“For the first time this House became an equal branch of government,” Ralston said, making it clear that the legislature intended to keep its independence from the folks on the second floor.

It will take lawmakers a week or two to get down to the business of actually debating and voting on bills, but when they do, they will be considering some of the same issues they took up last year.Cagle9Jan2017

Campus carry, religious freedom, low-performing schools, casino gambling, medical cannabis, and the renewal of a hospital provider fee to raise funds for Medicaid are some of the issues that will at least be debated, if not adopted.

Legislators will also wait and see what happens in Washington with the expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on the health insurance industry.

The early schedule

The calendar is set for the first four weeks of the new session.  Here’s how it now stands:

Monday, Jan. 9, through Thursday, Jan. 12: Days 1-4 of the session.

Monday, Jan. 16: Martin Luther King holiday.  Jan. 17 and 18: joint hearings of House and Senate appropriations committees.

Monday, Jan. 23, through Thursday, Jan. 26: Days 5-8 of the session.

Monday, Jan. 30, through Thursday, Feb. 2: Days 9-12 of the session.

Martin is out

Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) said Monday he will not jump into the anticipated special election for the 6th Congressional District seat.

“My decision is based in large part on love for my family and community,” Martin said in a statement. “To run and win a congressional office means taking a fulltime job in Washington, D.C. For those that know me, you know my heart is a Georgia heart so leaving would be especially hard.”

© 2017 by The Georgia Report



Tags: Chuck Martin , David Ralston , early session calendar , General Assembly session