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Our legislators are back, but not for very long

Posted: January 15, 2014 - 1:01am

When House Speaker David Ralston sat down with reporters last week to discuss the new legislative session, he addressed the question that’s been on the mind of every capitol denizen.

“People want to know, is it true we’re going to be in and out in a hurry?” Ralston said. “From a House perspective, that is certainly true.”

It’s true from a Senate perspective as well. The General Assembly session that kicked off Monday should adjourn sometime around the middle of March, making it one of the quickest sessions in decades.

The major reason for the abbreviated session is a federal court order requiring primary elections for federal offices (U.S. House and Senate seats) to be held on May 20, with the runoffs on July 22.

Because state law prohibits legislators and constitutional officers from accepting campaign contributions while the General Assembly is in session, lawmakers want to end the session quickly so they can resume raising money and campaigning for those early primaries.

A short session means that the only bills assured of passage are the state budget and a measure that will shift the date of state and local elections to the same May 20 primary date as federal elections.

The budget could contain some good news for state employees and teachers in the form of a small pay raise. These folks have not had a salary increase in five years.

Bills that are controversial or involve complex issues are much less likely to come up for a vote because they would cause prolonged debates.

For example, Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) and colleagues who want to kill Obamacare have introduced a bill that would prohibit state agencies from implementing any aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

The bill will probably get a respectful committee hearing but is not likely to come out for a vote on the House floor.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage, which is a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, is strongly supported by the Republican majority in the Legislature. That means expansion is not going to happen this session, no matter how many people protest.

Lawmakers will seriously consider a bill that would expand the number of public places where guns can be legally carried to include college campuses, K-12 schools and government buildings.

University System officials, fully aware that college students can be emotionally immature and prone to binge-drinking, oppose the idea of allowing these students to carry firearms on campus, but the legislative leadership appears ready to let the bill pass.

Georgia is not going to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, but the Legislature will at least take a look at easing restrictions on the medical use of the plant. Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) plans to hold committee hearings on medical marijuana.

With guns and medical marijuana on the agenda, even a short legislative session can turn out to be an entertaining one.

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