The 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly begins Monday, Jan. 13.
Already lawmakers tab this upcoming session as “the fast and furious,” as it is expected to be one of the quickest in years.
Each annual session starts on the second Monday of January and lasts no longer than 40 “session” not calendar days.
Most state legislature sessions extend through March and oftentimes into mid-April. This year will break the norm due to changes in election schedules.
The 2014 federal primary date now set for May 20 creates a domino effect on the state legislative session. One of the first pieces of legislation expected would change the state elections to coincide with the federal elections placing qualifying for federal and state offices from March 3 through March 7.
“I see it as a plus for us to do it on that date. To conserve money for the state we might as well let them all happen at the same time,” District 25 Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) said. “If you get out in March, you still have April and May to run a campaign.”
Those in the state House, Senate and all constitutional officers such as the governor and lieutenant governor running for re-election will not want to stay in session long.
State House Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville), District 145, agrees with the fast paced expectations at the capitol.
“We’ll get through in March this year. My guess is around the 20th,” Kidd said.
State lawmakers can’t raise money for their re-election campaigns while in session. Opponents back home are eligible to raise campaign funds during that time, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the 40 days.
Because it’s an election year, Kidd predicts there “won’t be many controversial issues brought up.”
“(Gov. Nathan Deal) wants to make everybody happy this year, and obviously so do the politicians,” the state representative said. “It’s unfortunate that the No. 1 thing politicians are after is getting re-elected. That’s not my agenda. My agenda is to do what’s right for the people.”
Kidd warns that the shorter the session the more power leadership carries.
“There isn’t enough time for the public to find out what’s going on and have input,” he said.
The only constitutionally required task for the legislature is passing a balanced budget.
For the first time in years, state employees and teachers might actually have pay raises worked into a line item, according to Kidd.
“We don’t have to do a lot of cutting any more,” he said. “It’s picking and choosing were you spend the new money.”
Jones confirmed the governor is looking at adjusting pay scales.
“Since revenues are up, hopefully we’ll have a little money to play with to do those things. It is something that needs to be looked into if the funds are available,” Jones said.
Issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” will likely be a hot topic.
Republican lawmakers have already announced their intention to introduce legislation prohibiting state agencies, officers, and employees from implementing any portion of Obamacare, instead leaving it up to the federal government.
“There are still a lot of questions about it that have not been answered,” Jones said. “I think (Gov. Nathan Deal) is correct in that fact that he’s not setting up an exchange because it’s obvious that when the federal government cuts off funding in a few years and puts it on the state we won’t be able to afford it.”
Democratic leaders should push for the expansion of Medicaid, one of the major provisions of Obamacare that has been refused by Georgia.
“Corrections, education and Medicaid eat up about 90 percent of the budget,” Kidd said.
Insurance reform will rear its ugly head this session.
“That’s the No. 1 call I get from constituents is I’ve lost my insurance. What do I do?” Kidd said.
Gun control, ethics and a bill restricting how Georgia sheriff’s departments spend forfeiture money are anticipated in Atlanta.
Jones expects to “hit the ground running” Monday on several bills pertinent to Baldwin County.
“With all the work we’ve done before the session, we feel good about accomplishing those,” he said.
Jones said several bills deal directly with Georgia Military College would be dropped.
The school must go through legislative action to alter its curriculum and to gain extra funds for students participating in the ROTC program.
Milledgeville issues such as House Bill 495 top the local delegation’s session to-do list.
This legislation would create an adequate mechanism for repurposing the vacant Central State Hospital property.
The bill features language for the 2014 State Property Omnibus Legislation deemed extremely effective in the campus-repurposing mission.
Establishing easier property conveyance procedures will give the CSH redevelopment team the ability to negotiate and act on a potential tenant outside of the General Assembly.
“If anybody found a corporation that needed a building and wanted to move to Milledgeville, they’d want the building right away,” Kidd said. “It’s a big issue being able to get rid of those 198 vacant buildings.”