Published Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First day gives rookies a taste of legislating

By Walter C. Jones

Morris News Service

ATLANTA – The 37 new members of the House of Representatives and five new senators found themselves in the middle of a multi-ring circus of activity as they took the oath of office Monday.

Most, like Rep. Spencer Frye, D-Athens, brought their spouse and children, adding to the crowd and noise in the legislative chambers. 

They got plenty of advice of the old hands.

Rep. Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville, said that after one session he’s learned to expect surprises regarding what’s controversial.

“The veterans tell me it’s not the issues you talk about before the session. It’s the things that pop up after it starts,” he said.

Rep. Alex Atwood, R-Brunswick, is starting his third session, and recalled how his work on a bill to restrict vicious dogs and a separate bill opposed by the Garden Clubs of America that allowed the cutting of trees around billboards seemed routine until he was swamped in messages from voters. Another seemingly unremarkable bill – out of the 1,500 introduced each year – was one allowing the hunting of deer over baited fields.

“I got more emails about that than I did on the budget,” he said.

Freshman Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, got to experience a heated debate within minutes of taking the oath of office. While the House merely renewed its past rules and re-elected its officers without opposition, the Senate clashed over rules that give the lieutenant governor broad power to appoint senators to committees and assign bills to the committees that will consider them first.

Harper didn’t know the hour-long battle was coming, but he took it in stride like the political junkies who wind up in elective office.

“It was pretty interesting,” he said. “I enjoyed that.”

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