Guide to the 2021 Legislative Session
The Georgia General Assembly convened at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, January 11, for the first day of the legislative session.
While the days are not consecutive, the Georgia Constitution limits the General Assembly’s annual session to no more than 40 legislative days. The General Assembly typically meets until the end of March or the first part of April. Although more than a thousand bills and resolutions may be introduced during the session, the law only requires that one be passed: the state’s annual budget.
Each legislative day, the House and Senate meet to introduce, discuss, and vote on the issues of the day. Additionally, members are granted time to speak on issues of individual importance (e.g., education, religious freedom, social justice) and honor their constituents. Most bills and resolutions that reach the floor for a vote receive bipartisan support. Although some bills are heavily debated, bills are rarely amended on the House or Senate floor. That’s why it’s important for legislators and constituents to speak out for or against a bill while it is in committee.
Every bill introduced in the General Assembly is assigned to a committee. The committee chairman decides which bills will receive a hearing. When a bill or resolution is called up for a hearing, legislators, members of the public, and lobbyists are given the opportunity to address the committee. Their input can help educate the committee about the issue, motivate members of the committee to vote a certain way, and provide content for potential amendments to the bill.
Lobbyists on the Hill
Lobbyists play an important role in the legislative process. Georgia’s General Assembly is a part-time legislature. With limited staff and resources available to legislators, lobbyists can provide subject matter expertise on issues to help legislators make informed decisions. To ensure transparency on how they are interacting with legislators, lobbyists must register with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (aka the Georgia Ethics Commission). For that same reason, lobbyists must also file a financial expenditure report every two weeks with the Commission while the General Assembly is in session.
Creating and Voting on Legislation
Legislators can draft legislation, also called a bill, at any point during their term of office, and only a member of the legislature can introduce a bill. A legislator may introduce a bill based on their own interests, or on those of their constituents or a lobbyist. To be considered for a vote, bills must be introduced during the legislative session.
Although the governor, currently Brian Kemp, is not allowed to introduce legislation. However, he does have Governor’s Floor Leaders who can introduce bills on his behalf.
You can find or track legislation on the Georgia General Assembly’s website.
Typically, the Georgia State Capitol welcomes members of the public to visit its beautiful grounds, buildings, and museum. However, due to precautions surrounding COVID-19, the public is discouraged from visiting the Capitol during the health crisis. But don’t worry — access to the legislative process is not restricted. All floor sessions and committee meetings are live streamed at www.legis.ga.gov. And, if you wish to address a committee about a piece of legislation, you may do so online or in person (please note, if you visit the Capitol in person, you will be required to wear a mask, present identification, and have your temperature checked before entering the building). Legislators appreciate hearing from their constituents. Some will even cast their vote based on how many people contacted them about an issue, even if it’s just one person. Phone calls and emails are an effective way of reaching your state representative and senator.
In addition to the first day of the legislative session, there are two key dates in the General Assembly's legislative process: the 28th legislative day, known as Crossover Day, and the 40th and final legislative day, known as Sine Die.
Crossover Day is the deadline for a bill to pass out of either legislative chamber. Bills that fail to do so are no longer in consideration during the current session. These bills, however, can be carried over and voted on next year.
Sine Die. is the final date for a bill to be passed by both chambers before being sent to the governor’s desk for approval or veto. As with Crossover Day, if a bill fails to pass by this date, it is still alive and can be revisited during the next legislative session in 2022. Once the General Assembly adjourns Sine Die, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto legislation. The governor can also do nothing, as he or she is not required to sign bills and resolutions in order for them to go into law. Unless vetoed, each piece of legislation that reaches his desk will go into law.
Key Members of the Legislative Process
Each of the following officials plays a key role in the legislative process. Some of these individuals, such as the governor and lieutenant governor, are elected by Georgians. Others, like the Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, and Senate Minority Leader, are nominated and appointed by their peers.
Governor – Brian Kemp (R)
Lieutenant Governor – Geoff Duncan (R)
Speaker of the House – David Ralston (R)
House Appropriations Committee Chairman – Terry England (R)
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman – Blake Tillery (R)
House Rules Committee Chairman – Richard Smith (R)
Senate Rules Committee Chairman – Jeff Mullis (R)
Dean of the House – Calvin Smyre (D)
House Minority Leader – James Beverly (D)
Senate Minority Leader – Gloria Butler (D)