Georgia lawmakers eye mid-June date to resume 2020 session

  • Restarting the session on June 11 would give Georgia hospitals and health officials more time to curb the spread of coronavirus.
    Restarting the session on June 11 would give Georgia hospitals and health officials more time to curb the spread of coronavirus.
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Top state lawmakers in Georgia are eying June 11 as a possible return date for the General Assembly to wrap up the 2020 legislative session, which was put on hold as concerns grew in March over coronavirus.

The June 11 date is being discussed as a possibility among several officials involved in talks over when to reconvene the session, according to several people with direct knowledge of those talks. Resuming the session on May 15 is also being discussed as an option.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, favors reconvening the session on June 11, his spokesman confirmed. That date would give lawmakers more time to wrangle the state budget.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the state Senate’s presiding officer who shares authority with Ralston in deciding when to resume the session, has not yet said what day he would like to reconvene.

The legislative session has been suspended since March 13, leaving hundreds of bills and critical budget negotiations in limbo. Georgia is also under a statewide shelter-in-place order issued by Gov. Brian Kemp through the end of April.

How many bills the legislature would consider upon reconvening remains up in the air. Per state law, the General Assembly’s only legal requirement is to pass a balanced budget for the current and upcoming fiscal years by June 30.

Restarting the session on June 11 would give Georgia hospitals and health officials more time to curb the spread of coronavirus. But it would also run close to the deadline for lawmakers to hand in a budget that will be heavily influenced by the economic impacts of coronavirus-prompted business closures.

Last week, Ralston tapped five state lawmakers and several key Capitol staffers to serve on a committee tasked with looking at how to close out the remainder of the session. That committee has not met yet, according to an official with direct knowledge of its activities.

When they do meet, the committee members will dive into the logistics of how to hold the session in a way that reduces the risk of exposure to coronavirus. Some officials have already reached out to the National Conference of State Legislatures for insight on what other state legislatures are doing to hold their sessions safely and transparently.

Nearly half of the country’s state legislatures have postponed their sessions or rewritten rules for convening amid coronavirus, according to the national conference. Several have met in unorthodox circumstances to conduct business in recent weeks, such as in sports arenas or outdoor tents.

In some cases, lawmakers in other in-session states have voted by proxy. For instance, lawmakers in Kentucky changed rules for the state’s House of Representatives that let members located outside the chamber text photos of their votes to a few members inside the chamber.