By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA — The 40-day legislative session kicked off Monday with replacement lawmakers getting sworn in, committees beginning to work, and a warning to tone down the politics.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle welcomed the 56 senators with some advice.
“All of us should take a moment and remember why each of us is here, to help the people of Georgia we represent,” he said.
Not only is this an election year, but a primary rescheduled from July to May leaves legislators eager to get the session over with as quickly as possible to maximize time for fundraising and campaigning, Cagle noted.
“We are in uncharted territory in this session, all of us,” he said, cautioning that political “cheap shots” would be tempting but unwelcome.
“Our goal shouldn’t be to be the best politician here but to be the best statesman,” he said.
Among the new House members taking their seat for the first time is Rep. Brian Prince, D-Augusta, who won a special election last month to complete the unexpired term of Quincy Murphy who died in August.
House Speaker David Ralston announced that today (TUESDAY) will feature a special recognition of Murphy and Calvin Hill, a Republican from Canton who died in October. Murphy’s widow, Dianne Murphy, is expected to attend despite losing the election to Prince.
During most of Monday, legislators were catching up with the happenings of colleagues. For example, Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, showed off a new beard that he grew last month and hadn’t gotten around to shaving it off. “My dad always had a beard,” he said.
Rep. Alex Attwood, R-Brunswick, had a new limp from a recently twisted ankle, and Rep. Barry Fleming had his left arm in a sling as it recovers from surgery Thursday for a bicep torn in a fall down a set of stairs.
“I tell people I was hurt protecting a constituent from Obamacare because the real story isn’t that interesting,” he joked.
Lawmakers also huddled to find support for bills they plan to introduce in coming days. For example, Rep. Regina Quick, R-Athens, conferred with Rep. Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville, about a bill to redraw their districts so that Oconee County will only be represented by one member of the House.
“We’ve got our marching orders from the county,” Quick said.
The Senate provided the only drama of the day when Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, rose to speak for the first time since his acquittal on criminal charges that he submitted bogus expense reports. As soon as he had been indicted, the Senate leadership removed him as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee and kicked him out of the Republican Caucus. They restored his caucus membership after he was cleared on all counts by the jury, and observers wondered if he would hold a grudge.
The chamber was hushed as he told his colleagues he was ready to move forward, but he lamented the ordeal his political opponents created by accusing him of wrongdoing.
“There should be a line between political gamesmanship and trying to destroy someone’s life,” he said.
Among the committees getting right to work was the Senate Ethics Committee which voted to change the date of this year’s primary election from July to May 20. That complies with a federal judge’s order so that ballots from overseas members of the military have time to be counted in any runoff.
Also, the Coastal Caucus met to get an update on road projects in the area and to hear how new laws dealing with natural resources are being administered.
Attwood and Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, announced they are introducing a resolution urging the federal government to delay or repeal new rules on flood insurance.
“It’s going to have a devastating impact on coastal Georgia,” Attwood said, adding that property owners who can’t afford the new premiums are also likely to have trouble finding anyone to buy their property.
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