Middle Georgia legislators get to work at Capitol

mlee@macon.comJanuary 14, 2013 

ATLANTA ­-- On an opening day not too different from the first day of school, Georgia’s 236 lawmakers started their new 40-day legislative session Monday.

Veterans gripped and grinned through the halls, slapping backs to greet each other, familiar lobbyists and staff. New folks hung back a little, figuring out which halls and doors to enter.

The freshmen are thinking about “the enormity of the job,” said state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, who was a first-term lawmaker in 2011.

“They’re probably in awe of the structure,” he said, referring to the exquisitely restored, gold dome-topped 1889 Capitol building.

“People say vote this way, vote that way,” Beverly recalled, mentioning the lights on each desk that show the legislator’s vote. “That green light looks big, the red one looks even bigger.”

This year’s Legislature is the most Republican since Reconstruction, with the GOP holding nearly two-thirds of all seats in both houses.

“There’s a lot of anticipation” ahead of the session, said state Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella. His previous term started late after a special election.

At the start of the new session, lawmakers sign up for committees and hope their requests are fulfilled.

Freshman state Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Reynolds, applied for the Agriculture Committee. She and all other House members expect to learn their committee assignments later this week.

Bentley placed her hand on her mother’s Bible to take the oath of office.

“It was exciting for me,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to budget hearings next week.

Across the building from the large House chamber, freshman Burt Jones, R-Jackson, who holds the Senate District 25 seat, took his seat in the smaller and equally ornate state Senate chamber.

Jones called it “an honor” to have been named a deputy majority whip, which puts him in charge of helping state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, with GOP caucus and Senate administrative duties.

The first day is set aside mostly for formalities in both the House and Senate, such as carrying out uncontested leadership votes.

Both Jones and Bentley said they have not planned to file any bills themselves. As a freshman, Bentley said she wants to learn and build relationships.

Jones plans to watch and learn, too. “You got two ears and one mouth for a reason,” he said.

Day one also means discovering the assigned seats that dictate neighbors for the year.

Jones, in fact, is siting next to David Lucas, D-Macon, a 37-year veteran of the state House, who formally joined the Senate this year after a short hiatus from the Gold Dome.

Lucas said so far the Senate is treating him well.

The Senate voted to cap gifts from lobbyists to their chamber members to a value of $100, the only substantive vote for the day. Democrats blasted the new rule for what they called its loopholes, like an exemption for travel.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.

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