Crane, Stover want transparency in legislature

The 2014 Georgia General Assembly session has come and gone.

The session ended March 20, but it’s been only in the past few days that final versions of all the passed bills have become available to the public.

The last week, and especially the last day, is always a whirlwind of activity.

“That last night was so confusing,” said State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, who has served in the Georgia House of Representatives since 1997.

State Senator Mike Crane, R-Newnan, would like to see the hectic nature of things change a bit. He’d like to see some changes to the Senate rules “that will make for a more efficient operation.”

“The legislative process… needs to have some more predictability and openness.”

In the final days “the cat- calling that goes back and forth between the House and the Senate – it’s kind of interesting to watch, to some degree,” Crane said Friday. However, “the way it is done is not the way it should be done. We should not be bouncing stuff back and forth at the last minute in the frenzied pace that we were doing things.”

In the final days, “you don’t even know who or what the next bill coming up is,” Crane said. “We have to spend a lot of energy trying to get a heads-up on what the next three bills are going to be.”

On Day 39, all the bills on the calendar were brought up, then tabled. That meant any one of them could be called at any time.

“They give the authors a heads-up, that is it. They don’t tell anybody else,” Crane said. “If I were running the Senate that is not how it would go.”

And bills that come out of conference committees in the final hours of the session could be something “that is totally foreign to the original intent of the legislation.”

There are several open Senate seats up for election this year, due to several senators either retiring or seeking other elective office. “I’m hoping to see some new senators that will support” a more independent Senate, Crane said.

An independent Senate would be “one that is not ruled by the executive branch.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is presiding officer of the Senate. “If we’re run by the executive branch, I don’t think we’re very good representatives of the people, are we?” Crane asked.

The Senate is intended to be the deliberative body.

“We’re really supposed to sit there and hash out ideas and figure out what works best,” Crane said. “But what happened is more of that very small group of people decide what moves forward and what doesn’t.”

Instead, things are “supposed to be driven by committees,” Crane said. “Committee chairmen should act independently and not reactively to what they are being told to do,” he said. “The process is not working at its highest efficiency right now.”

Cagle is good at running the Senate, but “controlling it really should fall back on the members of the Senate,” Crane said.

Early in the session, Crane and State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, introduced a Senate rule change that would have required bills and conference committee reports to be available at least 24 hours before they can be voted on.

There’s currently a 24-hour waiting period, but only through day 35. For the last five days of the session, the waiting period is just an hour. “Somebody can drop a bill that is 200 pages long and all we’ve got is an hour to look at it,” said Crane. The proposal got “locked down” in the Rules Committee, Crane said.

State Rep. David Stover, R-Palmetto, would also like to see some changes to make the legislative process more open and transparent for Georgians.

The same 24-hour proposal that Crane and McKoon introduced this year has been discussed in the House, Stover said.

“I do want to see” bills and conference committee reports sit for 24 hours.

“I think those rule changes are important,” Stover said. “I think they are important for the public, I think they are important for us as legislators” to be able to “read the bills and understand exactly what is in them” before it’s time to vote on them.

The House has a “bill compare” software program that allows them to easily see changes made to bills, but Senate leadership doesn’t allow its use, Stover said.

He’d like to see members of the public be able to access that information one day.

Bills and resolutions are posted online at www.legis.ga.gov, but the bills typically aren’t updated until midnight, or later, so in most cases, members of the public don’t get to see the latest version of a bill until after it’s voted on.

“We need to be fully transparent to the public,” Stover said. Members of the public “need to be able to pull up a bill and see what is going to be voted on the next day” instead of getting an hour’s notice and only seeing an older version.

It took a week for the final version of House Bill 60, which expands the areas where guns can be legally carried, to get up on the website, Stover said. “That’s a problem."

He’d also like to see committee votes recorded. Now, it’s by voice vote or by raising hands, if the vote is close.

The various changes would certainly mean drastic differences in the way the General Assembly works.

“But it’s the right thing to do,” Stover said.



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