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Georgia lawmakers adopt rules for next two years
Georgia State Capitol

by Rebecca Grapevine | Capitol Beat News Service

The Georgia House and Senate passed separate resolutions primarily along party lines last Wednesday, setting rules for the two-year term that began last week. 

The resolutions set the procedures – most of them routine – for the operation of the two legislative chambers. But this year, the resolutions included a few notable changes.  

Most controversial was the addition of new provisions that exempt communications between lawmakers and non-legislators about legislative business from public disclosure.

Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, complained that the new rule keeping communications from the public could be read to include discussions between lawmakers and members of the executive branch of state government. 

House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said the rule does not apply to members of the executive branch.

“We can’t all be experts on every issue,” he said. “We have to rely on others who have expertise.”

“We should have the ability to speak freely to third parties about the legislative process,” freshman Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, added when the issue came up in the Senate. 

House Minority Whip Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, argued that House rules aimed at maintaining decorum in the House chamber and committee meeting rooms could have a chilling effect on free speech rights.

House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, said the rules on decorum are simply clarifying policies the House has followed in the past.

“You will have an adequate opportunity to be heard, cast your vote, and represent your people,” Burns responded.

On the Senate side, the new rules resolution requires the Senate president pro tempore – currently Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon – to resign if he or she publicly announces a run for a different elective office.  

The resolution also eliminated the Senate’s Special Judiciary Committee, traditionally the province of minority Democrats, and replaced it with a standing committee on children and families.  

The new Senate rules also clarify that the lieutenant governor is authorized to engage in legislative activities within the Senate. Newly elected Lt. Gov. Burt Jones will begin presiding over the Senate after he is inaugurated on Thursday.

Only one House member and one senator voted across party lines on the new rules. Freshman Rep. Mitchell Horner, R-Ringgold, voted against the House rules, while veteran Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, supported the Senate rules.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.