Under Georgia law, the Georgia General Assembly begins on the second Monday of January, which will fall on January 13th. This is significant because it is one of the latest dates that such sessions can begin. If a few words could best describe my outlook for the session they would be "Fast & Furious." The late starting date, an election year session and new qualifying dates will combine to put extreme pressure on legislators to get their business done so that they can get back home as soon as possible. There are 40 legislative days in a session; however, these do not run concurrently with calendar days. The General Assembly "stops the clock" during this time to preserve legislative days, resulting in sessions that last much longer.
Current rules and regulations prohibit those in office from raising money while the legislature is in session. This prohibition does not apply to their unelected opponents. In 2014 this will be especially critical because changes in Federal election law have had the effect of moving candidate qualifying much earlier than ever before. In 2014 such qualifying will begin in late March, normally when the legislature would still in in session. In many years the final gavel doesn’t normally come down until mid to late April. You won’t see this in 2014. I did say it was an election year right?
2014 is also the second year of a two year session, meaning that all bills that were introduced last year and not voted on will be automatically carried over to this year. Second year sessions are also typically less controversial because of election year implications. A log jam of more than 400 bills is already in the pipeline.
Legislation can move extremely fast at times and can be introduced and on the Governor’s desk much quicker than you might imagine, however changes in technology have greatly improved the ability of constituents to track bills. The General Assembly’s web site, www.legis.state.ga.us will provide you with all the tools to track bills, contact legislators, and even view live streaming of the Georgia House and Senate when they are in session. Sessions typically begin each morning at 10 a.m., although some Fridays begin at 9. The web site will note such changes.
Should you want to come in person, allow plenty of time to find parking, which is always at a premium. Also know that on some days there can be upwards of a 1,000 people there seeking to do the exact same thing. Do your homework before coming, to include knowing who your elected officials are and the location of their Capitol offices. Most legislators are in the Legislative Office Building, across from the Capitol; however, senior officials will have Capitol offices.
Meeting legislators in their office is often much more effective than trying to find them amongst what may appear to be chaos inside the Capitol. Calling ahead for an appointment is also an option, but only if you are a constituent or the member is part of the local delegation.
2014 is predicted to be one of the quickest in recent memory and will require interested parties to be ready from day one. The tools are there for those who want to be engaged. Democracy is Not a spectator sport.
Jim Tudor lives in Newborn, Georgia. He has worked on legislative issues at the State Capitol for 28 years.