Friday is the crucial "crossover" day in the state Capitol.
That's the day when bills have to "cross over" from the Senate to the House, or vice-versa, to get any chance at passage for the session. Time is running out, so it's now or never for a lot of legislation.
That's why, says state Sen. Jim Whitehead, he filed what he admits is a flawed bill to change the county's school board.
That bill would deadline every school board member's term at the end of 2006. Wayne Bridges, Roxanne Whitaker and Mike Sleeper -- who were just elected in November -- would see their four-year terms cut in half.
Not good. Not fair to voters, either.
"I stuck it in knowing it was not where I wanted it," Whitehead says. "I couldn't get it into committee; we're closing everything down because we're running out of days."
The delay on getting the bill fixed, Whitehead says, is legislative counsel -- the state's lawyers who just can't seem to understand why the legislation shouldn't cut any elected officials' terms short.
"What you finally realize is, you probably have 10 lawyers who can't work for themselves, and can't work for the top law firms, so they go to work for the state," Whitehead jokes.
All kidding aside, Whitehead says an amended version of the bill should go through today. In addition to creating a countywide elected school board chairman, the bill redraws Columbia County's five school board districts down to four that coincide with County Commission districts.
To get those newly drawn seats into sync so not everyone is elected at once, some seats will get two-year terms to start, then switch to a regular four-year term at the next election. That includes the chairman.
Or chairwoman. Current chair Regina Buccafusco is thinking about seeking the seat, and the amended bill could give her the push to do just that: Two incumbent board members will be thrown into one district when the lines are redrawn, and those two will be Buccafusco and Sleeper. The new, larger district encompasses more of Sleeper's current district, which would seemingly give him the edge in a matchup.
Or, Buccafusco could seek the chairmanship. If she does, she could face the guy who previously held Sleeper's seat: Lee Muns.
Muns was just re-elected Saturday as chairman of the Columbia County Repulican Party. If he seeks the school board chairmanship, expect the voters to be much harder on him than the Republican bigwigs who talked tough for weeks and then wimped out of a fight over the party chairmanship.
But first, the bill to revamp the school board has to cross over. Whitehead says it will be fixed today, and then the fun will be just beginning.
Speaking of fun, state Rep. Barry Fleming had a little mischief up his sleeve before the legislative session even started.
Local Republicans knew Richmond County's delegation would block changes to Augusta's government-by-stalemate. Though powerful statewide, Republican state Rep. Sue Burmeister -- whose district includes parts of Richmond and Columbia counties -- can't break through the Democrat deadlock in Augusta's delegation.
Fleming was one of several lawmakers last week who came to the rescue. With carefully worded legislation drawn as a statewide bill but that applies only to Augusta, the lawmakers are bypassing the local delegation altogether.
Local observers found potential loopholes in the bill, so its flaws should be corrected in the next day or so, too. But in the end, we can expect real change in the way Augusta's badly dysfunctional government works.
Who says politics can't be fun?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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