With session half over, what's going on with General Assembly?

By Michael Davis

With the 2004 session of the Georgia General Assembly almost half over, there's still plenty of time to get acquainted with key places and players in the Georgia legislature.

The General Assembly must meet for 40 legislative days beginning the second Monday in January. Under the Georgia Constitution, the session can go longer than 40 days and sometimes late in the session, under pressure, lawmakers meet late into the night in order to cover key legislation.

The Rules Committee of each chamber sets the calendar for the session and each day, sets the legislative agenda for the next day, posting the calendar on the General Assembly's web site. The House meets Mondays from 1 p.m. to until the end of the day, often between 2 and 5 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to close.

Wednesdays, the House is off for committee and other meetings and comes back into session Thursday at 10 a.m. Friday they meet from 10 a.m. until the calendar is finished.

The state Senate follows a similar schedule.

If the bill is offered in the House of Representatives, it is read and assigned to a committee by the speaker of the House for discussion. In the Senate, the lieutenant governor, as president of the Senate, assigns a bill to committee. Once it passes committee, it goes to the House general calendar. "If it doesn't pass through committee, it doesn't go on the general calendar," said Jonnie Shelnutt with the office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

From the general calendar, the Rules Committees choose the bills for discussion and voting for the next day and posts them on the Rules Calendar.

The general public can observe the process in action from the fourth floor of the Capitol building in the House and Senate galleries.

The Capitol Education Center also provides tours of the building four times a day and upon request. While the General Assembly is in session, January through March, tours begin at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m.

April through December, tours begin at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m.

Capitol Tour Manager Tricia Waldrop, said that their busiest times are during the session. "When we go out of session, the (tour) requests do drop down?they don't book as many," she said.

Operated through the office of the Secretary of State, the Capitol Education center also offers brochures so visitors can go on self-guided tours, Waldrop said.

The tours include the top three floors of the Capitol: the galleries of both chambers, the portraits in the rotunda and on the governor's wall and the fourth-floor exhibits which include a two-headed snake and a two-headed calf. "There's some oddities up there," Waldrop said.

Parking can be found around the Capitol on city streets and various pay-parking lots, including the lots at Underground Atlanta on MLK Jr. Drive and behind the Floyd Building.

MARTA trains also let out at the Georgia State University station underneath the Floyd building. For more information or to book a tour, call the Capitol Education Center at (404) 656-2844 or visit www.sos.state.ga.us and click on the State Capitol link.

For more information on bills in the general assembly, visit www.legis.state.ga.us.