The Georgia General Assembly began the 2014 session today, with a full legislative agenda and just 40 days to get everything done before the elections kick off.
The Georgia primary elections for U.S. Congress have been moved this year to May 20, two months earlier than in previous years.
To avoid having two election days for primaries, qualifying, and runoffs, the Legislature will vote on moving the state elections to May 20th as well.
The vote is somewhat controversial because members of the state Legislature are not allowed to fundraise during the legislative session. The Georgia General Assembly will likely wrap up the 2014 session late March or (very) early April, which would leave incumbents with just one month for fundraising.
Aside from the 2014 primaries issue, the state lawmakers will look at the following legislative proposals:
Budget – the Georgia General Assembly is required by state law to pass a balanced budget each year. This year the state revenues are up and Georgia has around $900 million in reserves. The budget shouldn't take as much time as it has in the past few years, when the main focus was cutting to make ends meet.
Teachers' pay – issue closely related to that budget, Georgia teachers haven't seen a pay raise in several years. The educators will most certainly see some kind of a raise, but a heated debate is expected on how much and if it will be limited to only teachers in state-funded positions.
Child welfare – big changes are looming over the state Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) in 2014. Last year, the Atlanta Journal – Constitution (AJC) brought to light issues within the state child-welfare system that contributed to at least 25 deaths in 2012. The public outcry was heard all the way in the governor's office. Gov. Nathan Deal issued an aggressive agenda dealing with DFCS and the state foster care system in 2014, including $27 million in a budget for 500 new hires over the next three years. Deal and Georgia Republicans have also suggested privatization of foster care, modeled after Florida. The partial privatization part is likely to see a lot of debate.
Braves stadium and taxes – the controversial decision to move out of the city of Atlanta is still front and center on the debate table and is likely to stay there for years to come. But the new Braves stadium will rise up in Cobb County, and the supporters will expect the General Assembly to pass some tax breaks on building materials and area infrastructure investments, among others. Since many still can't seem to accept the historical move to suburbia, this issue will see major news coverage and public debate.
Guns – last year, the General Assembly failed to pass legislation loosening gun restrictions in Georgia, although it came close. That's not likely to happen in 2014 - an election year with many high-profile politicians up for reelection (like Gov. Nathan Deal). Georgia is proud to be a gun-friendly state, and the conservative electorate expects action. The issue of allowing students to carry concealed firearm on college campuses brings about the most debate and controversy.
There is more on the Legislature's agenda, but the above issues will are likely to take center stage this year.