Because 2006 is an election year, Georgia citizens should expect two kinds of lawmaking from their General Assembly this year: Populist legislation designed to provide sound-bites for campaign ads; and, low-profile legislation needed to keep things running.
The latter is the boring stuff that makes up the bulk of the workload for any lawmaking body. But it's the former that gets all the attention, because that's what it is designed to do.
Take, for example, one of the issues that Columbia County lawmakers say will be at the top of the Legislature-controlling Republican Party's list of priorities this year: eminent domain.
A year ago, state lawmakers were running full speed ahead with plans that would have made it easier for governments to work with private developers. Public outcry slowed them down, and when the U.S. Supreme Court sparked nationwide outrage by green-lighting seizures of private property for even the flimsiest public purposes, reform of eminent domain suddenly became a burning issue.
As a result, expect Georgia lawmakers this session to make it more difficult for governments to seize private property. "We're going to straighten out this silliness on eminent domain," says state Sen. Jim Whitehead. That's a big, welcome turnaround from last year's effort.
On the House side, state Rep. Barry Fleming - who also serves as Harlem's city attorney - isn't expected to make any hasty moves on Columbia County commissioners' desire for consolidation legislation. And in his role as the Republican majority whip, Fleming also will help push some of that headline-grabbing legislation, including Draconian penalties on sexual predators.
Now that state Rep. Ben Harbin is entering his second session as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue recently making a recent election-year promise to send more road construction money to the county level, Columbia County could have an easier time getting funding for major transportation projects in the months ahead.
The session started Monday, and will wrap up eventually after lawmakers spend 40 working days - sometimes at the rate of only one day a week in session, with the rest in committee work. So while the Legislature is in Atlanta during the next couple of months, we can only hope that the election-year push for headlines helps Georgia more than it hurts.
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