House votes to leave in March, return in June

House votes to leave in March, return in June

By Aaron Gould Sheinin | Friday, February 6, 2009, 09:50 AM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state House just voted unanimously to split the 40-day legislative session into two parts, which lawmakers hope will give them flexibility to deal with whatever economic stimulus package comes from Washington.

The House voted 165-0 to meet three days a week through March 25 and then return in late June. The General Assembly is constitutionally required to meet for no more than 40 days a year, although those 40 days do not have to run consecutively.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons) said Senate leaders have also agreed to the change, although that body must approve the adjournment resolution before it takes effect.

This, Keen said, allows the Legislature to be “responsive to things that may or may not come down from Washington.”

Congress is debating a $800 billion to $900 billion economic stimulus package, which by some estimates could send $5.6 billion in additional federal dollars to Georgia for education, Medicaid, infrastructure and more.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, are consider an amended budget for the current fiscal year that must find $2 billion in savings, as well as a budget for the year that begins July 1 that seeks even deeper cuts.

Going to a three-day work week — the House and Senate would convene Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — slows down the clock and allows budget writers and Congress more time to figure out what money is available.

“All of us see the news and read the newspaper,” Keen said. “We have worked very hard with the Senate to craft a schedule to let you know where we are but at the same time allow us enough flexibility to respond to what may or may not happen in Washington.”

Committees, especially budget-writing panels, would likely continue to meet on Mondays and Fridays, Keen said.

March 25 would represent the 35th day of the session, under the adopted resolution, and returning June 27 would give lawmakers five full days before the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1.

“If we leave and things change, this will allow us to come back in a five-day period,” he said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and options in terms of what we do.”

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