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2016 Legislative Session: Day 1

January 12, 2016
Legislators sitting at their desks

The energy, excitement and ambition was almost palpable yesterday for Day 1 of the 2016 Legislative Session. Legislators, pages, aides, enthusiasts and more scurried beneath the gold dome. It almost felt like school kids returning after summer break.

So many hugs and handshakes and pats on the back, reminding me that Day 1 always feels special and somewhat thrilling. This is only my third year watching the Georgia General Assembly in action, but each year I can’t help but get excited by the almost feasible energy flowing through those marble walls.

I started Day 1 in the Georgia House of Representatives, sitting in the top gallery on the fourth floor of the Georgia State Capitol in Downtown Atlanta. At 10:01 a.m., Speaker David Ralston called everyone to order and introduced us to the new representatives recently elected. Each stood and took a quick wave as their names were acknowledged. For those of us on the fourth floor, the House doorkeepers politely whispered the rules of the chamber to each person who walked into the gallery. 

First we heard from Chad Kelly, the chaplain of the day. Then everyone in the chamber stood as we recited in unison the Pledge of Allegiance. It was starting to feel like the normal routine of session. Until … a choir from Gilmer High School began singing and I was reminded of the uniqueness of the day.

Next, adding to the special atmosphere, we heard from a very extraordinary guest. Miss America herself spoke to the room full of representatives and spectators. Betty Cantrell grew up in middle Georgia (in the Macon, Warner Robbins area) and attends Mercer University. She was recently crowned Miss America, but still makes time to visit her home of Georgia. She’s very active in keeping American children healthy and strong and has worked in the past with Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black in helping with Georgia Grown. Before stepping down for photos, Betty sang “Georgia on my Mind” to the chamber. Every eye and every ear zoned in on the podium. Georgia pride flowed through us all.

After Betty left the podium, the First and Second Readings of bills and resolutions began. This started to feel normal and like the session I’m used to. My fingers itched to grab my pen and scribble notes. However, I’ve always been a bit curious by nature, so I snuck out and slipped over to the opposite chamber.

I crept into the Georgia State Senate as Senator Vincent Fort stood at the well on a point of personal privilege. After him, Senator Joshua McKoon took the well. And then Senator Valencia Seay. Then Senator Nan Orrock. Then Senator Renee Unterman. On and on, it was finally starting to sink in. I couldn’t resist much longer. I pulled out my notepad and began scribbling notes, flexing those rusty muscles. It felt just like riding a bike.

The legislature is officially in session.

To follow the live action of this year’s legislative session, check back here and follow the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate on Twitter.

Day 1 also included a very special ceremony remembering the 5 nursing students killed in a tragic car crash last April. Senators, representatives and constituents gathered to remember the lives lost by this unexpected event.

About the Author

Bethany McDaniel is the Editorial Director for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, Ga., with degrees in Visual Communication and History.

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