By Curt Thompson
For most Georgians, New Year’s Day is the last holiday before they return to their daily lives. It’s the last chance to buy a little something for someone else, go out to celebrate, or make a dent in all those leftovers from Christmas, because they know they have to go back to work the next day and be responsible for what earns them their paycheck. This isn’t always the case for the Georgia General Assembly.
Traditionally, every other year, when elections aren’t around the corner, it’s possible to go into Session with an attitude matching that of the citizens we represent and a sense that major things can be done. Election years are trickier, since Session becomes focused on the bills that usually cause some level of heightened emotion around the dinner table or after reading the newspaper in the morning. However, this year, the powers that be are continuing a pattern that’s been growing over the last few years: shortening Georgia’s Legislative Session in order to prevent real debate on the budget and proposed bills.
There are a few trends that have combined to create this pattern. First, there’s dissention within the Republican Party. Holding a supermajority in both chambers, along with all statewide offices, has not united the disparate factions that have been fighting each other since President Obama’s election in 2008. Incumbents currently elected have to play defense during Session in order to counter primary challenges from the other factions and, all too often, that defense is doing absolutely nothing that would offend the supports of even the most extreme blocs. A shorter Session helps with that defense by reducing the possible amount of fumbles that could be made.
Secondly, the fight between Georgia and the federal government over election dates has left us with primaries starting in May, instead of June. Since incumbents are not allowed to campaign during Session, there’s an additional incentive to cut the time of the year which part-time legislators use to contemplate and debate legislation in favor of fundraising.
The job of Georgia’s legislators is to govern by representing the constituents from their district through the legislation that they propose, support, and oppose. That job cannot be done effectively when we’re given less time to work, even if it benefits those legislators that are facing tough primaries. This is a deliberate attempt to reduce legislative debate for the purpose of dodging responsibility come election time.
Furthermore, the limited time that is left for legislators to do work doesn’t even appear to be taken seriously anymore. There is not even a week put aside for budget hearings anymore, which is an important part of passing our state’s annual budget. It’s a time for both legislators and interested parties to become educated on what is going into that dense piece of legislation; without it, we lose the chance to listen to and question agency heads that provide the context necessary to make a decision on the most important bill of each Session.
Just because our reelection campaigns have been abbreviated because courts have moved primary dates up doesn’t mean we can or should abbreviate the work the people of Georgia sent us to do. The leaders in charge of Georgia’s legislative calendar should take a hard look at what substantive benefits are being sacrificed on the altar of protecting incumbents.
P.S – Please contact our office with any legislative concerns or idea by email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Reprinted from 5th District State Sen. Curt Thompson's (D-Tucker) blog. Thompson represents parts of unincorporated Duluth, Norcross, Tucker, and Lawrenceville. Also, check the senator out on Facebook and Twitter.
Curt Thompson on Patch