Georgia lawmakers are set to reconvene the 2020 legislative session on June 15, roughly three months after the General Assembly hit pause due to mounting concerns over coronavirus.
In a memo Wednesday, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, agreed with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to resume the session on Monday, June 15. The two chamber leaders then formally signed a resolution to resume on that date.
The decision comes as lawmakers began work last week on crafting a budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which is poised for significant cuts due to the economic slowdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. The General Assembly has until July 1 to pass the budget.
The resumption of the session also comes as businesses continue reopening after weeks of closures that started in late March as the virus spread in Georgia, sickening thousands of people including several state lawmakers.
Uncertainty over how much the virus may spread as businesses reopen created some tension between top General Assembly leaders over whether to reconvene the 2020 session sooner or later.
Ralston, who helms the House, initially called for a June 11 restart while Duncan, who presides over the Senate, pushed for May 18. The June 15 date marks a compromise between the two after weeks of disagreement on when to start wrapping up the 11 remaining days of the session’s 40-day schedule.
“I appreciate the Senate recognizing that we should reconvene the session in June as I proposed,” said Ralston. “I believe this will enable us to best serve the people of our great state.”
Duncan pitched the June 15 date after backing off his original May proposal, noting the mid-June timeframe would give lawmakers and the public a few days of breathing room following the state’s June 9 primary election.
“June 15 will give members enough time, after the primary election, to be tested for free at their local health departments, which all Georgians are able to do,” Duncan said.
Lawmakers have not yet settled on the logistics of holding the session in accordance with social distancing practices adopted during the pandemic. A task force set up by Ralston is expected to issue recommendations on measures like remote voting and physical separation inside the Capitol building.
They did, however, offer a preview of some social distancing measures during in-person committee hearings this week and last, at which speakers waited outside meeting rooms for their turn to give testimony and watched proceedings mostly on video monitors installed in the Capitol.
By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service