Georgia General Assembly begins on a somber note

    Flowers were placed at the desk of former Sen. Greg Kirk on Monday at the start of the 2020 legislative session. The south Georgia Republican died days before Christmas after a six-month battle with cancer.

    Georgia lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday and paid tribute to two colleagues who died recently.

    Legislators are set to engage in lively debates this session over a range of  issues, from budget cuts to gambling to health care. But first former colleagues offered memories of Sen. Greg Kirk and Rep. Jay Powell.

    Powell, a Camilla Republican, died suddenly after collapsing at a leadership retreat in north Georgia on Nov. 26. A special election to represent his district is set for Jan. 28.

    Kirk, a Republican from south Georgia, died just days before Christmas after a six-month battle with bile duct cancer. A special election to represent his district is set for Feb. 4.

    The late Rep. Jay Powell

    House Speaker David Ralston said the people of Powell’s southwest Georgia district are better off because of the 67-year-old’s brilliant mind and wise counsel.

    “We will and we are moving forward because he would not just want us to, he would expect us to,” the Blue Ridge Republican said. “We can take comfort knowing those of us who did not get to tell him goodbye, that we’ll see him again.”

    In the Senate chambers, the clerk called out Kirk’s name three times during roll call. Three Senate staff members, led in by doorkeepers, placed white roses at his desk.

    Decatur Democrat Sen. Emmanuel Jones said despite some political differences, he was able to find out how much he had in common with Kirk after they met for lunch in early 2019.

    The late state Sen. Greg Kirk
    State Senate photo

    “We built a relationship and friendship that superseded any argument,” Jones said.

    Before the 10 a.m. start, legislators, lobbyists, advocates, staff other elected officials filled the Gold Dome’s hallways, bringing bustle to the 130-year-old building for the first time since last April.

    The state House and Senate set a calendar for the early part of the 40-day legislative session Monday. The first four days of this week are part of that calendar, with the governor set to deliver his State of the State address Thursday and unveil his proposed budget. The following week, the first four days are set aside for department heads to deliver budget presentations to legislative committees.

    Protesters chanting for lawmakers to take action on climate change briefly interrupted Monday’s Senate session.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.