2013 will bring new faces and challenges to the Georgia legislature and new leadership in the Senate as well. As we gear up for another important legislative session, many questions remain unanswered under the Gold Dome. With new leadership in the Senate, new committee chairs on some key House and Senate committees, a handful of special elections to fill vacancies in the House and Senate, and 42 freshman legislators (37 House, 5 Senate) tracking a course for 2013 will be challenging.
In the Senate where a back and forth battle over leadership and power with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and a group of Senate Republicans has been ongoing since the aftermath of the 2010 elections, new Senate officers may help answer some questions about how that body will look and function in 2013. Sen. David Shafer was elected Senate President Pro Tempore replacing Sen. Tommie Williams and Sen. Ronnie Chance was elected Senate Majority Leader replacing Sen. Chip Rogers (who has since resigned his seat) means new faces and priorities in the top two spots in the Upper Chamber. Senator Butch Miller replaces Sen. Bill Cowsert as Majority Caucus Chair and Sen. Cecil Staton remains Majority Whip while the Governor recently named new Floor Leaders in Sen. Charlie Bethel and Sen. Rick Jeffares (along with Sen. Bill Jackson).
While much of this is inside political baseball, most people take the results of the caucus elections to mean Lt. Gov. Cagle will likely take back some or much of his governing power that was stripped in the aftermath of the 2010 elections.
What is still unknown at this point though is who will chair the powerful Rules Committee and the other important Senate committees after the leadership shakeup. Current Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour is not expected to retain his chairmanship in 2013 with the top two contenders being current Transportation Chairman, Sen. Jeff Mullis and current Health and Human Services Chairman, Sen. Renee Unterman. This will be a closely watched race as the winner will chair the committee that determines what bills make it to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
In addition to the five freshman senators, special elections are ongoing to fill Sen. Chip Rogers seat as well as Sen. John Bulloch who retired.
Depending on the outcome of the special elections, Senate Republicans are looking at the possibility of a veto-proof 2/3 majority which would also enable them to pass constitutional amendments without support from the minority party, a potential watershed moment for Senate Republicans who for much of Georgia history was the minority party.
On the House side, leadership remains largely unchanged with David Ralston once again holding the speaker’s gavel and his entire leadership team remaining intact. A small setback for House Republicans in the November elections and the resulting vote count left them short of the 2/3 super majority they sought in the House. On top of that, the body’s only independent Rusty Kidd, opted to remain independent and thus won’t caucus with the Republicans. Additionally there are two special elections to fill vacant House seats that will further determine the partisan makeup of the body.
As we head into the New Year, the General Assembly will also face a full plate of difficult issues ranging from budget shortfalls to juvenile justice reform and what to do about ethics reform. I’ll be posting a separate update dedicated specifically to the myriad of legislative issues that NFIB will be pursuing as well as the other important issues the legislature is expected to address. (Speaking of important issues, don’t forget to vote your NFIB Member Ballot!)
In the meantime, best wishes from the staff at NFIB/Georgia for a very happy and prosperous New Year!