One month from now, Georgias lawmakers will head back to Atlanta. If it feels like they just left, its because they did.
Never in recent history has the Legislature spent so much of one year in session. After its regular spring term, the Georgia General Assembly reconvened twice for successive - and nasty - reapportionment sessions that dragged into September.
In mid-January, the legislators have to drag themselves back under the Gold Dome, taking with them all the pent-up partisan frustrations of redistricting and their hopes for scoring political points in an election year.
Anyone expecting spectacles of statesmanship and thoughtful accomplishment likely will be disappointed.
I just dont think youll see anything too controversial, says state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans. I really believe, more than any other session, that this will be quick.
Though the session may seem short as lawmakers work to get home to campaign in their newly drawn districts, there also is plenty of time for mischief. To be fair, though, theres also plenty of time for positive action.
Thats why local elected officials are summoned Monday to the Probate Court hearing room in Appling. Every year, members of the legislative delegation - Harbin, state Rep. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, and state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling - hold a pre-legislative meeting to seek input on community priorities.
Most of those priorities come with a price tag: Everybody will want more money, says Harbin, who adds that Gov. Roy Barnes is making it clear that the slowing economy means tighter fiscal belts not only next year, but immediately. Historically, the states mid-term budget has been a trough for well-connected lawmakers to use in feeding tax dollars to their districts; this year the trough is empty, with state agencies already forced to swallow emergency cuts.
Georgia could certainly use fiscal discipline, especially after blowing its surplus last year and borrowing hundreds of millions more to spend. But its unlikely citizens and local elected officials around the state will volunteer to be first in line to sacrifice their pet projects.
For Columbia County, there arent expected to be any outlandish requests for legislative action. Supporters of the countys new library likely will ask for state funds, while backers of the proposed Horizon South satellite of Augusta Tech will keep trying to push the project higher on the states priority list. Supporters of elementary foreign language programs also want state funding to continue.
Aside from pleas for money, Harbin foresees legislation of local interest, including:
Lawmakers will change the countys government, switching from the current five-district County Commission to a four-district Commission with its chairman elected at-large. Mondays session with the countys School Board - which is expected to submit a proposed remap for its own members districts - may spark a discussion on likewise switching that body to four trustees with an elected chairman.
Bus safety, though a state-wide issue, will be on the agenda as legislators debate Alea-nas Law, a series of proposals named for Aleana Johnson, a Martinez kindergartner killed in a January bus accident.
Legislators plan to honor Henry Black, a Columbia County resident and war veteran who was first in Georgia to receive his high school diploma under a new program that grants the documents to students who failed to finish school because of service in World War II or Korea. (The law should be updated to also grant diplomas to those who served in Vietnam.)
Mondays meeting provides an opportunity for elected officials to discuss pending legislative issues. This session is open to the public, but citizen input wont be sought until later, when lawmakers have County Commission and School Board maps ready for public review.
These maps have been prepared without public input, so citizens should pay close attention when the proposed new Commission and School Board districts finally see daylight.
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