On shorter legislative sessions, a new banking chair and refunding train lobbyists

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.

Other thoughts from the early days of the 2011 session:

• 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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42 comments Add your comment

arnold

January 28th, 2011
7:16 pm

Well, the Republicans are in the majority. Blame them now, and forever more.

killerj

January 28th, 2011
8:49 pm

Smaller government kyle? aaaaaaggggghhhhhh watch out cynthia,s be hind you! aaaaaggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Michael H. Smith

January 29th, 2011
1:24 am

Common Cause this week joined with the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, consumer watchdog Georgia Watch and gubernatorial candidate turned watchdog Ray Boyd to form the alliance. Among their proposals released this week is a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists.

Debbie Dooley, a state organizer for the Tea Party Patriots, said Ralston’s trip was not a purely working trip. Dooley said the Tea Party would be scrutinizing trips and other gifts from lobbyists and if Ralston blocks ethics legislation this year, the group will throw a tea party in his North Georgia district.

“That would be the type of trip that, even though on the surface was for business, they’re never going to say it’s a pleasure trip,” Dooley said. “But with them taking family along it sounds like it’s more like a pleasure trip than a business trip.”

~

If Republicans keep acting like the Democrats that were thrown out of power in this state, they may find themselves facing Tea Party candidates shortly. Much to the Democrats chagrin – et al Harry Reid (D) – and Republican fears, the Tea Party movement continues to grow.

We are watching.

jd

January 29th, 2011
6:45 am

Yeah — shorten the session — you only need 5 minutes to review a $14 billion budget on ZBB terms… what a joke –

Dabir Dalton

January 29th, 2011
6:53 am

Kyle there is a reason that both Politician and Prostitute begin with a P. Funny how one can get away with ripping off the taxpayer while the other gets arrested for taking care of her John.

GOP = Grand ole Party = Grand ole Pervert = Grand ole Prostitute

jconservative

January 29th, 2011
7:01 am

“There also would be fewer days for lawmakers to collect per diem payments to supplement their legislative salaries,…”

Now you know why they in session 40 days.

The Right Brothers

January 29th, 2011
7:45 am

Wow. I am in awe. Did Kyle write this. Something critical of members of the majority party. I’m impressed as well as in awe.

carlosgvv

January 29th, 2011
8:40 am

Lawmakers need those last few days to consult with their business lobbyists to make certain they have obeyed the lobbyists orders and to receive fresh orders for the next session.

DannyX

January 29th, 2011
8:44 am

They wasted time that could have been used on ethics reform.

They are right back to their old tricks. First Richardson has an affair with a short skirted Georgia Gas Light lobbyist. Our next House speaker then has an affair with a lobbyist, to the tune of a fantastic $17,000 family vacation extravaganza.

Stop wasting time and get to work on real ethics reform.

Road Scholar

January 29th, 2011
9:12 am

I would be more impressed by the value of the legislation passed than by any time limit. So far under Sonny, not impressed. Do something for the people of Georgia (transportation, water, education, etc.) than for businesses! besides who votes: businesses or the people? Oh, there’s that money thing!

Charlie The Tuna

January 29th, 2011
9:14 am

Democrats = The party of “gimme”!
Republicans = The party of gimmicks!

midtownguy

January 29th, 2011
10:47 am

SIlly Kyle, they get pay and per diem for the do nothing days.

Liberal Mind

January 29th, 2011
11:29 am

“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.”

Hell hath frozen over!!!! Keep writing things like that Kyle, and they’re going to revoke your party membership. As far a lobbyist gift limits, why not set the limit for elected officials to the same level and standard as public employees? Are they not all government employees? Why should they be treated any different? I could give Commonwealth Research Associates a huge discount and perform that same service that Ralston did for the low, low price of $15,995.95. That’s savings of more than $1000.

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 29th, 2011
12:05 pm

Convene, say the pledge, hear a devotion, make announcements, adjourn.

That’s a week in which they didn’t do anything to hurt us. Let’s count our blessings.

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.

One would think that’s a no-brainer. Apparently not.

findog

January 29th, 2011
1:11 pm

Kyle,
What would be better would be, as all things in Georgia must be; a constitutional amendment that:
The state legislature shall convene the second Tuesday of January and adjourn no later than the second Tuesday of March but for never more than 40 days without a special session called for due to extraordinary reasons by the Governor.
That way they could all get the weekly rate at the local days inn…

Linda

January 29th, 2011
4:42 pm

“Convene, say the pledge, hear a devotion, make announcements, adjourn.”

That’s what we did in the Brownies, except we had a lot of fun afterward.

“no longer than 40 days.”

How can we get DC on the same time frame?

what if

January 29th, 2011
6:15 pm

HOW is it we elect these crooks? Are we really that incredibly stupid as an electorate? I guess so. My guess is both Kyle and Jim would have been somewhat – um – more blunt if Ralston had been Dem (not to be confused with liberal) than if he had been Repub (most certainly not to be confused with conservative). I noted that Deal dealt out an ethics edict to the state employees – fine with me, but conveniently in lawyerese made sure the outs were there for the elected and appointed so they can rake in whatever they wish. State employee will get fired for being given a coffee cup but it’ll be just fine for Ralston to junket to Europe again. And again. And again.

Bobby

January 29th, 2011
6:23 pm

Kyle – I don’t necessarily disagree with the fact that legislators could end sessions in under 40 days, but assuming nothing is going on because it doesn’t occur on the floor is a bit ignorant. Each house is working behind the scenes on various aspects of the budget process, there are committee meetings and meetings between legislators about particular bills. Bills are passed later in the process, because they have made it through behind an extensive behind the scenes vetting process. I’m just not sure griping about the number of legislative days without understanding everything that goes on while the legislature is in session is very productive.

Rafe Hollister

January 29th, 2011
7:09 pm

I think we should cut the number of days to 10 per year. Anything important could be addressed in 10 days. Give them time to sit and conspire and they come up with silly rules and regulations and more senseless spending. We do not need a state Fungus or State Invertebrate.

The Oddball

January 29th, 2011
8:12 pm

As a veteran observer of goings on under the Gold Dome, I have to disagree with you, Kyle. It’s a madhouse down there even with 40 days — people barely have time to read a third of what they vote on. Shorten the session and you just make things easier for the dirty tricks crowd (trojan horse committee substitutes, poison pills, innocuous looking bills that a really sweetheart gifts, etc.) It takes time to smoke that stuff out.

Better to require all bills to be prefiled and enforce strict limits on germane amendments.

Dusty

January 29th, 2011
8:21 pm

The Oddball @8:15

How did you get here? You sound downright sensible. Glad to see it.

Michael H. Smith

January 30th, 2011
5:52 am

HOW is it we elect these crooks? Are we really that incredibly stupid as an electorate?

Take this for what it is worth, then decide but first ask yourself one question and hope that you’ll never find the answer.

My father once told me (when on the subject of bribery, payola or the immoral unethical Quid pro quo) that everyone and everything has a price, son… (with a momentary pause he then answered) “I hope that my price is set so high that no one will ever meet it.”

Sadly, “what if”, we humans are all that incredibly fallible. So it is doubtful that we as an electorate will ever be intellectually capable of either designing an infallible system to prevent electing a crook to office or finding an infallible human.

Contrary to our conservative blog host, Mr. Wingfield, I’m of a differing opinion on the issue of “speeding-things-up” with some very well reasoned foundation supplied by the founders of this nation. Upon looking at the system of governance the founders had installed, including the Constitution before the 17th amendment and other points, it was their intentions to “slow-things-down”. Even in that fiery document, our Declaration of Independence, this “slowing-things-down” is seen in the foreboding language: Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes

A great deal can and probably should be done to improve our State government, as well no doubt our Federal government but “speeding-things-up” is not one of them, which has far too often served as in times past, light and transient causes .

Fortunately, “what if”, a number of restless souls in this country, though we certainly are not so pretentious to think we have all the answers, are at least searching to rightly-correct these light and transient caused wrong-corrections by returning to the founding principles that were never meant to be set aside in the name of Progress and Expediency to ahem… “Lean Forward”.

The unintended consequences of the “Brew Pot”, Kyle, are avoided by the use of the “Cooling Saucer”. Every proposed bill that is to be offered in a State legislative session should follow the newly established U.S. House of Representatives prerogative: All bills shall be posted publically on the Internet for public review with Constitutional bases given before the session begins. All amendments made during the session should be publically posted for review and redress before a final vote can be taken. Perhaps then 40 days would be sufficient my friend, otherwise 40 days or anything less is simply too mischievous.

Grow Tea Party, grow.

barking frog

January 30th, 2011
1:07 pm

With appropriate statutes, the legislature could meet
only on December 31 each year.

catlady

January 30th, 2011
4:53 pm

The Second Coming is imminent! I agree with EVERY WORD Kyle said!

Halftrack

January 30th, 2011
4:57 pm

The 40 days are now considered as “40 Official days”. It takes a lot more days to get in lobbyist, planning, political maneuvering for last minute hot topics. and posturing on the bills submitted so as to lay blame to the correct entity if something goes wrong. Government is not about saving money, being efficient or using common sense. Every once in a while an adept Government official comes along but they are castigated for such foolishness as it makes the rest very uncomfortable. Party and Peer pressure wins usually.

catlady

January 30th, 2011
4:58 pm

Who has taken over Kyle’s body? Or his computer?

catlady

January 30th, 2011
5:01 pm

Let the legislators live by the same ethics, per diem, and gift rules as the teachers! And, instead of getting a year’s retirement for 40 days, let them get 40 days’ retirement credit for 40 days. Yeah, I know they work (claim per diem) for more than 40, but teachers work FAR, FAR more than the 190 they are paid for. Sauce for the goose and all that…

DawgDad

January 30th, 2011
5:27 pm

Nothing personal, Kyle, but with all the earth-shaking developments around the world this weekend the AJC opinion blog topics are . . . pathetic.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 30th, 2011
7:18 pm

The protests have lacked a clear leader to unite them and provide an alternative to Mubarak, and demonstrators are beginning to focus their wrath not just on Mubarak and the country’s widespread corruption, but also on the United States and, to a lesser extent, Israel. They blame Israel and the US for supporting a government because it is convenient for them, not because it is good for the Egyptian people.

Wow, can’t you just feel the love that obozo has brought us from the rest of the world?

Me neither, just sayin…

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 30th, 2011
8:09 pm

Jimmy Carter will go down in American history as “the president who lost Iran,” which during his term went from being a major strategic ally of the United States to being the revolutionary Islamic Republic. Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who “lost” Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and during whose tenure America’s alliances in the Middle East crumbled.

Now, now, obozo is just giving over US allies to his homeys and compadres, the Islamic lunatics.

allah akbar, obozo is just sayin…

MrAttitude

January 30th, 2011
9:14 pm

Wow!! Did Kyle actually write this piece? Kyle, as you have told before, if you keep writing ariticles like this, the Tea Party will be writing to the editor and requesting that you be replaced by a more conservative journalist.

I Report :-) You Whine :-( mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 31st, 2011
5:58 am

“I wish similar demonstrations would take place in Iraq against the government,” said Najat Shaiyal, the 31-year-old owner of a tea stand in Baghdad.-Urinal

Aahhh, actively inciting violence against a democratically elected ally of the United States, the spineless wonders at the AJC never rest, do they?

And how hard is it to find a shot out Shiite raghead to whine and moan on cue about getting his woman and children killing rear end kicked from one end of Baghdad to the other?

Here Spot

January 31st, 2011
7:33 am

The problem here is these Egyptian Islambs. They need to calm down, get back to work and off the streets as they are beginning to affect the stock market and gasoline prices.

The sooner Hosni is gone or the U.S. can install another puppet regime then the better off we all will be.

PS…If Comrade Obama hadnt gone over to Egypt and began running his mouth about Democracy none of this wouldve come about. Perhaps an air-drop of ObaManure and The HildaBeast into the middle of these mobs is a good idea. Then the two idiots could barter with these civil-peace loving Islambs….

What if

January 31st, 2011
8:06 am

@Michael – so we’re all prostitutes, we just have to settle on the price – -. Perhaps so, sir. I appreciate the thoughts. I’d be willing to debate, however, whether the mindless knee-jerking of the “Tea Party” that so far seems only to be a pawn reacting to the fear-based propaganda of various “special interests” (the insurance company-driven “job-killing health care bill” distortions (the DATA show otherwise) are a perfect example) is an answer to anything healthy for the economy or the culture.

Here Spot

January 31st, 2011
8:56 am

TP will take more seats next go around. Watch and learn.

Here Spot

January 31st, 2011
8:57 am

Peter

January 31st, 2011
9:29 am

Kyle or any Republican…What have been the positives of having Republican lead state ?

DawgDad

January 31st, 2011
9:59 am

‘mindless knee-jerking of the “Tea Party”’

“What if” you really had a clue?

Explain to me how SEIU members can possibly vote Democratic, when their union leadership sold them and their benefits under Obamacare down the drain (they requested and obtained a waiver on health care limits, capping care for their members at a fraction of the legislative MINIMUM limits). Let’s count all the thousands of waivers being issued. If this legislation is so great, why all the waivers? Answer: It’s not. Friends of Obama get or buy waivers, the rest of us will pay or be subject to the tyranny of mandates and government interference in our “personal private health care decisions”. I recall Obama saying something about government having no business interfering in our “personal private health care decisions”. Oh yeah, that was abortion he was protecting.

Peter

January 31st, 2011
10:15 am

Kyle in Georgia.education is bad, no new reservoirs that I am aware of, transportation hasn’t gotten any better.

Georgia banks are leading the country in bankruptcy adding to the deficit…..

So what are Republican’s doing that is positive for the state ?

dp

February 1st, 2011
2:20 pm

I’ts Sad, but the Republicans are acting as arrogant as when hisself Tom Murphy and his crowd were running the House & Senate. 1st was Glenn Richardson, 2nd Ralston and now Murphy. Come on Republicans give it a rest….live up to all your hipe and do things the honest way.

BAD DEAL

February 2nd, 2011
1:36 pm

Hey Wingnut, when are you going to write an article about Deal’s staff payroll increasing by 30%? Huh?

Mike10

February 2nd, 2011
11:27 pm

Bad Deal,I agree no one is talking about that,I’m waiting on the article as well.