This week’s Courier Herald column:
The work of the Georgia General Assembly doesn’t begin in January. It’s important to remember that our legislators are officially part-time. Most have other jobs and other responsibilities they attend to the rest of the year, and juggle those the best they can when the legislature meets.
It’s hard for anyone to become an expert on the problems the state faces, propose solutions, draft that solution into a bill, then build the political coalition required to pass that bill all during a 40-day legislative session. In fact, that’s rarely done, at least for the more complex issues.
For topics that are especially intricate and/or need additional attention to build a consensus around solutions, study committees are formed. In the past, study committees were largely symbolic and too often used as a way to say “hey, we’re working on it” without doing much else.
More recent efforts have demonstrated both substance and results. The 2015 bill that restructured Georgia’s funding formula for transportation culminated in a bill that put an extra $1 billion per year into roads, bridges, and transit. It served as a model for the House Rural Development Council that studies issues specific to rural Georgia and proposes legislation for the upcoming session.
Study committees are authorized by the House, Senate, or jointly. They usually begin their work in late summer. This allows legislators to take a break and catch up on their other career and family responsibilities after they adjourn in April, as well as campaign for primaries during election years. This year’s committees are beginning to schedule their work.
There are three joint study committees this year involving appointees of the House and Senate. The “joint” nature usually implies there is agreement that there is some form of underlying issue that needs to be addressed, and legislation of some sort will be considered next year from their work product.
The highest profile of these will be the Joint Study Committee on the Electrification of Transportation. Electric Vehicles, or at least the policies and tax credits on their adoption, are quickly becoming a polarizing partisan topic. Georgia, with a dedicated battery manufacturer SK Battery America in operation and manufacturing facilities about to begin construction by Rivian and Hyundai, has decided to go all-in on EV’s.
At issue officially is the federal grant to Georgia to build a comprehensive charging network to allow ease in road trips and help EV adoption outside of urban centers. Other issues loom large however, including the power generation that will be needed if EV adoption goes as fast as Washington would like, as well as whether the distribution network we have can support the load required to charge that many EV’s at once.
Other joint committees will study Georgia’s music heritage, as well as cannabis waste disposal and recycling. Expect a lot of “joint” committee jokes about the latter.
The House will undertake a study on Regulation, Affordability, and Access to Housing. This will encompass a wide swath of issues creeping up from the local level that housing advocates believe are driving up both construction costs and rents. Expect battles over mandated building materials and aesthetic designs being added to building codes, as well as local restrictions not only on short term rentals, but investor owned housing in general. A central theme will be the state’s interest in ensuring affordable access to housing versus the ever present rallying cry of “local control”.
The House will have a couple of other committees that will look into Literacy Instruction, as well as Local Law Enforcement Salaries. Note that local sheriffs are responsible for hiring and retaining their deputies, but the separately elected county commissioners set the Sheriff’s budget and local tax rates.
The Senate, meanwhile, has ten additional study committees. Headlining their work will be the Study of Economic Development and International Relations. This group will look at Georgia’s largest trade assets, such as Hartsfield Airport and Georgia’s Ports, and their roles in international trade and tourism. This sounds dull or routine until you remember that legislation that would take state control of Atlanta’s airport has been filed previously from the Senate.
Other Senate areas of focus include the tax abatement powers of downtown development authorities, the creation of a Georgia cybersecurity force, the powers of homeowners’ associations, and transparency of high school athletic associations, among others.
The legislature doesn’t convene until January. If you want a preview of what’s to come, don’t ignore the work going on very publicly from now through the late fall.