Charlie Harper: The 2018 – And 2019 – Legislative Work Starts Now
Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
There’s a certain cadence of the calendar for those who work in the politics and policy fields in the state of Georgia. We’re all familiar with the 40 days’ rush of the Georgia General Assembly that begins in early January and, if at all possible, ends before Masters week. It’s a time of long days, even longer nights, and little rest.
There’s usually a brief lull where a lucky few are able to go over to Augusta and look at some of the prettiest azaleas in the world, or go virtually anywhere else and be left alone for a few days. Many of us are tired of being around other people by then, and of pretending to have to enjoy the company of others that really just want something from us.
It’s now been two weeks since the gavels in the Capitol signaled Sine Die. Sergio Garcia has his first ever green jacket. Easter eggs have been hidden. Most of them have been found. And thus, those that work on the 40-day session of passing laws get back to work now.
The people that wish to pass laws during the 2018 session of the Georgia general assembly (at least, the ones doing it right) don’t wait until January to see what they think may happen. It’s incredibly difficult to get the attention of the right committee chair(s), House & Senate leadership, and the buy-in of the Governor’s staff if one begins the process in January.
That’s not to say it’s not often done. It just usually doesn’t end well for the legislator, their issue, and the resulting legislation.
The large legislative packages are often one to two years in the making. Yes, the final details are worked out when there’s 180 members of the State House and 56 members of the Senate in Atlanta to debate the finer points. The work to define a problem, analyze solutions, determine the fiscal and political impacts of the solution, and drafting the basic legislation is most often done well before legislators feast on wild hog.
As such, the 2019 meeting of the legislature really starts right now. No, that’s not a typo. While many in the political community are chasing the latest soundbite in a 24-hour news cycle, the people that are serious about major legislation are already working two years ahead.
2018 is an election year. Much of the activity in the 2017 was tainted by political posturing for those who either wanted to set up issues to run on in 2018 or at least keep their options open. With the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Secretary of State now known to be open, and others still quite possibly vacated, there will be many legislators who will be using the 2018 session to highlight issues that they can solve later – if only we will promote them.
Those of us that work on policy rather than campaigns have some choices to make now to determine how best to implement solutions to 2017’s known problems. We can either promote issues to make part of the 2018 campaigns, or work quietly to be ready for 2019 when it will be easier to tackle big issues absent the gamesmanship of pending statewide campaigns.
It’s easy to get an issue talked about right now. The problem is that most complex solutions to any problem require change. The folks that run campaigns understand that in change there is confusion and skepticism. This can be exploited to turn a public unwilling to invest 15 minutes to understand the issue against it with a 30 second sound bite. The result is that the public can be made better aware of the challenges facing our state in 2018, but may also be against any solutions suggested if candidates grandstand to reinforce negative predispositions.
With that risk at hand, it’s still expected that several statewide issues will make their way into the discussion for legislation and campaign platforms in the next legislative cycle. State funding of transit, Medicaid expansion and/or block grants, rural Georgia problems (healthcare, broadband, and population loss), and whether Georgia has completely abandoned school choice into anything more than a meaningless talking point are all on the table.
Many of the major bills that address these issues may not make it to the Governor’s desk until 2019. Who that governor is may very well be determined by their willingness to take on solutions to these problems – and the public’s willingness to engage now beyond a thirty second sound bite.
Commentary and opinion by Charlie Harper, Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.