New term means new statehouse management

By Michael Davis

When the Georgia General Assembly convenes Jan. 10, it will be the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans have controlled both chambers of the body and the governor's office.

And it means a conservative agenda may be the rule of the day.

Republican lawmakers took control of the state House of Representatives with the November elections for the first time in 130 years, further strengthening GOP control.

Republicans, under the leadership of Gov. Sonny Perdue, wrestled the state Senate away from Democrats after a handful of Democratic lawmakers switched parties in 2002.

Several House Democrats switched parties after November's elections.

But even some Republican lawmakers are a little nervous about their first days in power.

Predicting a longer-than-usual session, Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, said the GOP may take several long breaks during the session to hammer out the state's $16 billion budget – a process that last year forced lawmakers into a special session.

"We're going to have to legislate a little differently than we have in the past," he said. "I anticipate there's going to be limits on debate and I anticipate there's going to be limits on the [number of] bills we drop."

Republican lawmakers are widely expected to pursue some of the socially conservative issues that have been on the back burner during Democratic control.

"Part of the Republican agenda is to protect certain societal foundations, one of which is the value of life," said Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, the Senate's ranking Republican.

Some of the issues likely to be raised during the 40-day session include stricter abortion regulation and legislation in support of public displays of the Ten Commandments.

Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, was not surprised by his party's loss during the November elections. The lifelong Democrat and self-described "Zell Miller Democrat" said the party moved away from its strengths.

"The sad part about it is that most of the Democratic Party members in the House and the Senate are as conservative, if not more so, than Republicans on these social issues," he said.

Senator-elect Emanuel Jones, a Democrat from Ellenwood, will be getting his first taste of state politics in the minority party and playing "defense" against any GOP efforts to cut education and health-care funding, which have taken hits in recent years.

"There are certain items, like the HOPE Scholarship, that we're going to have to be on the defense on, and start blocking," Jones said.

Last year an effort by Perdue to change the method of awarding the popular, lottery-funded program met strong resistance from Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

Jones pointed to Senate Bill 3, pre-filed by state Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, that would set a limit on judgments awarded in medical malpractice cases.

"That's kind of an indication of what we're going to be seeing," he said.

Lunsford said permanent and meaningful tort reform would come slowly

"Are we going to push this huge omnibus bill that's going to fix everything?" he asked. "If we do, I'm afraid we're going to screw something up."

– The Associated Press contributed to this article.