Changes to speed up leg­isla­tive ses­sions

The Covington News - - OBITUARIES -

gen­eral pri­mary date up to late May, and the qual­i­fy­ing pe­riod (the time when you of­fi­cially sign up to put your name on the bal­lot) to early March. The House con­sid­ered the bill on Fri­day, and it passed by 159 to 1. Mine was not the dis­sent­ing vote.

Now, back to the rea­son for an ac­cel­er­ated leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Mov­ing the pri­mary date up by two months puts a tight squeeze on in­cum­bent leg­is­la­tors. Given the new elec­tion sched­ule, if the ses­sion were to end at the more cus­tom­ary be­gin­ning to mid­dle part of April, there would be very lit­tle time for cam­paign­ing, since the late part of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion is usu­ally far too in­tense to al­low much of any­thing else. This would be quite an un­ex­pected dis­ad­van­tage, thus there is broad agree­ment among leg­is­la­tors on the need to move things along.

Of course, as some folks have al­ready pointed out, this begs the ques­tion of why the ses­sion has been end­ing in early to mid April in re­cent decades. From what I’ve learned, prior to that time an early to midMarch con­clu­sion was the norm. That was pos­si­ble, in great part, be­cause vir­tu­ally ev­ery day of the week, in­clud­ing week­ends, was counted as an “in ses­sion” day. Thus the 40 al­low­able ses­sion days, pre­scribed by the state con­sti­tu­tion, could be used up fairly quickly. In those re­cent decades, how­ever, the state has seen some sig­nif­i­cant changes. We have roughly twice as many peo­ple, with a far greater diver­sity of in­ter­ests. Ge­or­gia’s econ­omy is also much more de­vel­oped and com­plex. This adds many more topics upon which leg­is­la­tion has been passed, along with deeper lay­ers of de­tail within ex­ist­ing topics (say health care and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, for ex­am­ple). The state bud­get has grown com­men­su­rately larger and more com­plex. In other words, this greater com­plex­ity cre­ated a pres­sure for an ex­panded ses­sion.

Another change that may have con­trib­uted to longer ses­sions is the fact the House be­came a truly in­de­pen­dent leg of the state gov­ern­ment back in the mid-1960s. Prior to that time, gover­nors had a good deal of con­trol over the House – even nam­ing speak­ers and com­mit­tee chair­men and set­ting the leg­isla­tive agenda. It’s a lot eas­ier to move things along quickly with that kind of top-down con­trol.

In re­sponse to all th­ese changes, our leg­is­la­ture, rather than chang­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion to al­low longer ses­sions, sim­ply spaced things out more, us­ing the “ses­sion days” pre­vi­ously burned on the weekend to do busi­ness. I think this was a wise ap­proach, be­cause it keeps leg­is­la­tors very fo­cused on get­ting the job done, rather than al­low­ing the state to grad­u­ally slide to­ward a year-round ses­sion, as has hap­pened with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and a num­ber of other states.

Con­sid­er­ing all of this, we may find it quite chal­leng­ing to speed the ses­sion up!

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