ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers have returned to Atlanta to start a busy 40-day legislative session that's expected to focus on a budget shortfall created by rising health care and education costs.
Legislators broke with the traditional slow start to the session and got to business Monday, their first day back at the Capitol.
In the Senate, Lt. Gov Casey Cagle recognized two new lawmakers and attempted to assert himself as the leader of the chamber, foreshadowing an ongoing power struggle with his GOP colleagues. The Senate is scheduled to vote on bills carried over from last year's session related to education and courts.
The Senate unanimously approved one bill that would give the state superintendent the ability to hire and fire Department of Education staff. Currently, the state school board controls that function.
Also in the Senate, legislation that would prohibit local school boards from requiring that teacher layoffs begin with the most recent hires was debated at length along partisan lines. Supporters of the Senate Bill 184 say it allows those boards to fire someone for cause, instead of based on their seniority, and not punish talented people. Some Democrats said the proposal takes away local control and was not an issue that should be taken up at the start of the session.
In the House, Speaker David Ralston made a few brief remarks Monday morning welcoming a handful of new lawmakers to the chamber before a clerk started reading new bills and members took up scheduling and other matters.
Leading lawmakers have vowed to pass legislation this year that would spur job creation and workforce development programs as Georgia's unemployment rate still hovers around 10 percent. Legislators also are expected to consider new infrastructure spending, revamped policies to address prison overcrowding and social issues such as abortion.