2013 Georgia Legislature
Rep. Smith: Session short but effective
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly was “a fast session but a productive session,” said State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, Coweta’s senior legislator.
The session ended Thursday with the frantic 40th legislative day, commonly known as Sine Die.
In the past few years, the session has stretched well into April, so the 2013 session was a short one.
But that also meant approving the state’s budget — the only item the legislators definitely had to accomplish — wasn’t done until the very last day.
The budget always takes a long time, but “usually we get it done” sooner than that, Smith said. Then again, usually they are working until mid-April. “A lot of that was trying to work the budget slower through the process,” Smith said.
One budget item Smith spoke about was more funding for full-time professors and instructors for the state’s technical colleges.
There have been repeated state budget cuts since 2008, and the way a lot of technical colleagues were dealing with budget cuts was “opting for part-time professors instead of full-time,” Smith said.
“One of the things we learned is, to keep accreditation for that type of college, you’ve got to have more full-time professors than part-time.”
Another major win for tech schools was the approval of changes to the HOPE Grant, which pays for classes at technical schools. “We had always accepted a 2.0” grade point average for the HOPE Grant “until a couple of years ago, when we raised it to 3.0,” Smith said.
That higher requirement led to lower enrollment.
“A large percentage of the students for schools like that have jobs, they probably have families, and they are working hard to improve their skills,” Smith said. With the higher standards, they found “we’re not capturing” enough students. The students at tech schools are “really our workforce. They are trying to improve their skills and be marketable.”
The change to the HOPE Grant and the additional funding for instructors are giving tech schools the tools they need “to keep a steady stream of an improving workforce” for Georgia.
A strong workforce leads to strong economic development and “it is a good marketing tool,” Smith said. “It is interesting how one step can stop things, and then you can correct that and you can start to position yourself better,” she said.
“Because when industries look to expand and they look to come here, they want to know they’ve got an already trainable workforce.”
The two changes for the technical schools aren’t “flamboyant or fancy,” Smith said. But they are “basic, good government.”
“The decisions were sound and needed to be made,” she said. “I thought it was a good example of assessing and reassessing as we go forward, which is what I think we need to do with everything we do — not just be so set in a way that we can’t reflect and look at change when we need to.”
As usual, the session lasted until its absolute deadline — midnight, but “we were at ease a few times during the day,” Smith said.
Because this is the first session of a two-year term, the stakes aren’t quite as high, and the day isn’t quite as frantic, as it is on the second session of the term. Bills that weren’t approved or rejected by Thursday are still alive for the 2014 session. At the end of the second year, bills that don’t make it will be deemed “dead.”
“You will see the frenzy come back next year,” Smith said.
Some of the breaks throughout the day were to wait on the Senate, and others were to wait on bills to be printed.
“To print the budget takes three to four hours,” Smith said. And “anytime you make a change to the bill it has to be printed and on your desk.
“Let’s just say the trains don’t run on time the last day of the session.”
A lot of news coverage of the session has been on a few high-profile bills and “a lot of times they don’t even get passed,” Smith said.
The only high-profile legislation that made it were a pair of ethics bills. They set limits on lobbyist spending on legislators and restored “rule making authority” to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the State Ethics Commission.
House Speaker David Ralston had asked Smith to be part of his “working group” on ethics reform last fall.
Now that the bill has passed, “I’m trying to figure that all out,” Smith said.
She thinks restoring the rule-making authority to the commission is a very big deal. “We’ll have to see how that works. If that is not accomplishing the things that need to get done, if they need more legislative authority,” that can be worked on next year.
“I think the process is working and I’m glad the leadership in the House and Senate were willing to sit down and be responsive,” Smith said.
Early in the session, the Coweta legislative delegation worked to get the new districts for the city of Newnan approved by the legislature.
Several people from Coweta County were honored with resolutions at the Capitol this session, including local Principals Laurie Barron and Bob Heaberlin, Coweta Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Ross, and the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Coweta Unit. “It’s a way to stop and applaud good work,” Smith said.