Jill Nolin and Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
January 8, 2024
State lawmakers returned Monday to the Gold Dome for what is expected to be a lively election-year legislative session.
But for now, lawmakers are mostly tending to the usual housekeeping tasks that greet each session, like setting a calendar that will dictate the length of the session and which days lawmakers will meet.
The session started just a month after lawmakers met for a tense special session to redraw Georgia’s political maps after a judge ruled the first attempts passed in 2021 illegally diluted the voting strength of Black Georgians. That same judge has since approved the new maps.
“Good morning, seems like just yesterday that we were here,” said Speaker Jon Burns after gaveling the House into session.
The chilly first day attracted pro-Palestine protesters who chanted on the Capitol steps while far-right activists rallied across the street at Liberty Plaza for paper ballots and continued to repeat false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Back inside, the state Capitol was abuzz, with lobbyists, advocates and others filling the hallways. Some of them were adjusting to a crackdown on unattended bags and other items, with new signage sprouting up warning of confiscations. Lobbyists commonly leave their belongings on tables at the Capitol while working the halls.
The first day also brought a noticeable showing of Capitol Police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs. And over in the Senate, security was also on the mind of lawmakers.
Several senators spoke on the chamber floor about the need for tougher criminal and civil penalties for falsifying reports of serious crimes following a recent rash of swatting threats made against GOP leaders, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Republican Sen. John Albers shared his own harrowing experience. Roswell police showed up at his home the day after Christmas following a hoax domestic dispute call with someone threatening to shoot another family member.
Albers, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, called the swattings foolish pranks that put police and victims at risk.
“You may also know that just a few days ago someone emailed a bomb threat to our Capitol building as well as buildings throughout the entire United States,” he said, referring to a bomb threat that briefly shut down Georgia’s Capitol. “Again, these types of actions are foolish and dangerous.
“You see much increased police presence here at the Capitol today,” Albers said. “We’ll continue to see that both visibly and non-visibly to make sure that each one of you and our families are protected.”
Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said that a real challenge for lawmakers is finding a balance between protecting law enforcement and the public from threats that continue to rise as a result of the ongoing culture wars. He urged lawmakers not to respond in a manner that further widens political and ideological divisions.
“When it comes to the very basics of government, will you do what’s necessary, not just to protect our members from a law enforcement public safety perspective, and protect the public at large, but are we going to protect our shared commitment to govern for everybody and not assume the worst in each other at some of the most difficult vulnerable moments that we face,” McLaurin said.
Atlanta Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock said that the threats against public officials are another example of how more governing bodies and people are treating dangerous rhetoric as normal public discourse.
“We should absolutely come together and use the bully pulpit to model behavior that is not divisible, not rancorous, not tearing down but sound of the message of coming together to address the needs of our constituents in our state,” Orrock said.
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