Southern Politics

Georgia State Capitol - Atlanta, GeorgiaIt is not a good feeling that we have. Dreading the Georgia Legislature to be in session is not very positive, nor a good sign for democracy. But it is the real world.

Far better would it be for us to look upon the 40 days of the Georgia Legislature time as an opportunity. But the results (and normal antics) of the Legislature, under both the previous Democratic and present Republican leadership, worries us no end.

Those who wanted change in Georgia from the many years of domination by the Democrats are learning that though we now have a different party in charge, we do not necessarily have change. Both parties, when in charge, exercise power in many of the same ways, though geography, race, viewpoint, or slant, may have changed. Scratching a back continues to get results… though many may not like the results.

We’ve heard it from others for years: nothing is safe if the Legislature is in session. You would think that enacting new legislation would automatically mean progress, would be positive and would give Georgians new energy and vigor. Far more often, new legislation results from the influence of the lobbyists in seeking either protection or advantage for certain industries, while the everyday life of the individual citizen is threatened in new ways.

Perhaps the best aspect of the Georgia Constitution is that it limits the time the Legislature can meet to only 40 days per year, unless the governor convenes the body in emergency or special session. Most states meet for a limited number of days, from 30 to 140 or more days. In some states, the Legislature meets for most of the year, and the position is considered a full time job. That sends shudders up our back! To think the mischief that a year-long session would create. You would never get the relief that Georgians feel for most of the year when the Legislature goes home.

Today, 46 state legislatures meet annually. The remaining four states-Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas-hold session every other year. All of the biennial legislatures hold their regular sessions in the odd year.

We feel Georgians need more protection in the way the Legislature does its business. Right now the Legislature could, conceivably, meet for 40 straight days. Over the years, the Legislature has meet sporadically during the first few weeks, often holding committee meetings on the days it chooses not to be in full session.

What worries us is the way legislation sometimes rushes through the House and Senate, with the average citizen having little, or no, idea of what bills proposed actually do.

A story on the U.S. Senate Web site explains one element of having two houses: “An oft-quoted story of the Senate involves George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Upon his return, Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. ‘Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?’ asked Washington. ‘To cool it,’ said Jefferson. ‘Even so,’ responded Washington, ‘we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'”

Therefore, a suggestion for a slight change for the legislative process. Limit the time legislation can be introduced to the first 20 days of the session. Then require a 30 day hiatus or recess (a slow down, or cooling off time) before the next 20 legislative days can convene. (Not even committees could meet during this time.) This would allow Georgians to realize some of the problems included in bills that had been introduced, and give time to smoke these problems out. The final 20 days of the session could be to strengthen or even undo bad legislation, with proposed bills no longer able to be rushed into law without adequate time for review by constituents.

It’s a small change of Georgia legislative rules. But it would serve to provide more protection for the people, and allow us to dread less the rush of legislation

###
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.