Inside the legislature as it scrambles on its final day of action.
This week, Congress enjoys the first half of a two-week recess. Across the country, other legislators are wrapping up, or have already finished, their legislative calendars for the entire year. While U.S. Senators and Representatives get the chance to return to their home states to meet with constituents and breathe some non-Beltway air, part-time legislators across the country use the beginning of the year to deal with governance and then return to their private life by April.
Six state legislatures: Kentucky, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming, have already adjourned, and a seventh, the Georgia General Assembly, shutters the doors of the Gold Dome Thursday at midnight in a ceremony known as Sine Die, Latin for “without day.” The annual event is known in Georgia politics as a mad rush to vote on all outstanding measures: if a bill fails to reach a vote by the time the clock strikes 12, it automatically fails and must wait to be reintroduced the following year.
The top priority in Atlanta tonight is the 2014 fiscal year budget, the only bill that the body is legally required to pass. The sticking point in this year’s budget debate centers on education. Gov. Nathan Deal’s FY 2014 proposed appropriating over 37% of state expenditures to the Department of Education, well above the national rate of 26% cited by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This year’s issue has to do mostly with higher education spending for scholarships and technical colleges according to GPB Atlanta.
Another piece of legislation on the docket would allow weapons onto college campuses, churches, bars and all public buildings. State Rep. Charlie Gregory (R-Kennesaw) referred to the Newtown massacre while defending the initiative to the Marietta Daily Journal: “From a practical standpoint, if somebody was in that [Connecticut] school, say a principal had had a firearm, he probably could have saved many, many lives that day.”
Another hot button bill on the agenda would ban state health care plans from paying for abortions. Gov. Deal told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, “within the context of the state employees’ health benefit plan, this should be an auxiliary benefit that’s paid for separately.” Local Planned Parenthood representatives, on the other hand, argue that there was not enough opportunity for public comment on the bill; it was introduced on the third-to-last day of the session as an amendment to a bill dealing with employee benefits at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The moment the gavel comes down at 12 o’clock, staffers toss garbage bags full of paper into the air, mercilessly leaving clean-up duties to custodial crews already forced into a late night.