The action in the Georgia House and Senate chambers for most of last week went something like this: Convene, say the pledge, hear a devotion, make announcements, adjourn.
It was so efficient, it was inefficient.
Our part-time General Assembly traditionally meets for 40 legislative days each year, wrapping up in March or April. The state Constitution says only that legislators shall meet “no longer than 40 days.” That’s a limit, not a requirement.
Yet it was widely understood in the hallways under the Gold Dome that lawmakers needed to “burn” a few days last week to hasten the end of the session just a little bit. Those final days, after all, are when almost everything of note gets done.
Now, far be it for a journalist to question the mind-focusing powers of a deadline. But — and I’m just asking here — if lawmakers feel an urge to bring the end along sooner, and if the Constitution says it’s OK to meet fewer than 40 days, wouldn’t it make more sense to have shorter sessions?
Republicans did manage to leave town after just 39 days in 2005, the first year they had majorities in both the House and the Senate. Then-Speaker Glenn Richardson wrote an op-ed in the AJC calling the early checkout “a feat mostly symbolic of our desire to be a more efficient, effective Legislature.”
Even in that efficient year, however, lawmakers recorded at least two do-nothing days in session, according to online voting records. And every year since, there have been at least a couple of days in which both House and Senate hit quittin’ time before their seats got warm. In both 2009 and 2010, there were six such days.
There are, of course, arguments against having shorter sessions: fewer days for citizens to sit in the gallery and watch government in action, fewer days for lobbyists to buy lunch and/or dinner, fewer days for legislators to file bills that border on silly. (Hey, I didn’t say they were all good arguments.)
There also would be fewer days for lawmakers to collect per diem payments to supplement their legislative salaries, making it harder to squeeze a full year’s income out of a part-time job, as some legislators do.
Paradoxically, it also would make it easier for more Georgians with day jobs to contemplate running for a seat in the Statehouse. They wouldn’t be as likely to spend up to one-third of their year, and perhaps forgo up to one-third of their income, in this public service.
Would trying to keep a session to, say, 35 days really be out of the question? It might be too late to plan for such a move this year, but 2012 is a possibility. And it would go very well with a switch to biennial budgeting, as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, has proposed for Congress.
• By all accounts, Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, is a nice guy. But it’s past time for Murphy, or GOP Senate leaders, to decide that a man being sued by federal banking regulators shouldn’t chair the state Senate Banking Committee.
• Memo to Commonwealth Research Associates: The next time you want to educate a Georgia legislator about European transportation, I’d charge considerably less than $17,000 to speak about my years of riding planes, trains, automobiles and subways over there. Of course, if your last group of students — Speaker David Ralston, Ralston’s family, and Ralston’s chief of staff and his wife — will just do the right thing, you’ll get a refund of that $17,000 anyway.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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