Legislature suspends session worried about COVID-19 virus spread

    House Speaker David Ralston huddled with his chamber's leaders March 12 just before the General Assembly suspended its 2020 session out of concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    Concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus reached the state Capitol, causing lawmakers to abruptly suspend their session.

    State leaders announced Thursday afternoon – in the middle of a Crossover Day, which is an important deadline for bills to clear at least one chamber – that the legislature would take a break from meeting after Friday. Lawmakers continued to work their way through dozens of bills Thursday evening.

    “Our hope and prayer is that we are overreacting but I would rather do it this way than to underreact,” House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, announced to his chamber. “We will not be here for a few days and hopefully it won’t be long.”

    The decision came the same day that Georgia saw its first coronavirus death when a 67-year-old Cobb County man with underlying medical conditions died.

    “Both chambers have consulted with Gov. Kemp and decided this is the right thing to do in light of the current circumstances,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. “This decision was made out of an abundance of caution and we will resume the session at a future date.”

    The Legislature typically meets for 40 formal days every session. Thursday marked the 28th day of the session. A handful of lawmakers are expected to convene Friday for the 29th day.

    Sen. David Lucas, a Macon Democrat, asked about campaign fundraising. All 236 legislative seats are up for reelection this year, but lawmakers can’t raise money to support those reelection efforts while they are in session.

    “If you suspend, how do we raise money,” Lucas asked, eliciting laughter from his fellow senators.

    “I appreciate your question, but we’re concerned about public safety,” Duncan said. “The chair appreciates your concern. … Senator, that’s not my priority at this point.”

    Georgia Recorder reporter Ross Williams contributed to this report. 

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.