By ERRIN HAINES and RAY HENRY (Associated Press)
Georgia lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 9, to start a 40-day session expected to focus on closing a potential budget shortfall, overhauling the tax code in an attempt to attract jobs and steering nonviolent offenders away from expensive and overcrowded prisons.
Legislators in the Republican-controlled chambers got straight to business Monday. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, largely dispensed with opening-day ceremonies after briefly greeting a handful of new lawmakers from the speaker’s podium. The House then started approving its calendar and reading new legislation.
Ralston seemed to give a mild dig to the Senate, the scene of a leadership struggle last year that he had complained made it difficult to pass legislation. “I really want the Senate to know that we’re working,” Ralston said, shortly before a vote where House lawmakers officially notified their Senate counterparts of the start of their session.
In the Senate, Lt. Gov Casey Cagle recognized two new lawmakers and attempted to assert himself as the chamber’s leader, reflecting a power struggle among his GOP colleagues. The Senate passed two bills carried over from last year’s session related to education.
The Senate unanimously passed one bill that would give the state superintendent the ability to hire and fire Department of Education staff. Currently, the state school board controls that function.
After a lengthy debate, the Senate also voted 38-15, along partisan lines, to pass legislation that would prohibit local school boards from requiring teacher layoffs to begin with the most recent hires. Supporters of Senate Bill 184 say the measure would allow those boards to take into account other factors instead of only seniority when laying off teachers. Supporters of the change say it’s a way to avoid unnecessarily punishing talented instructors.
Democrats said the proposal would take away local control and called the bill “frivolous.”
With Georgia’s unemployment rate still hovering around 10 percent, leading lawmakers have vowed to pass legislation this year that