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Monday, January 9, 2012 - 2:00am

2012 Legislative Session Begins

The State Capitol is springing back to life. Workers have been testing equipment and tidying the chambers.

And lawmakers have also been busy filing bills.

That's because they return to the state Capitol Monday for the 2012 legislative session. State legislators will spend 40 working days in session, and then later this year, all of them are up for election. And that’s likely to affect the tenor of this year’s legislative session.

Georgia legislators have only one required task each session: Pass a balanced budget.

But that doesn’t stop them from proposing a variety of measures to change Georgia law.

Tom Crawford, who edits The Georgia Report, says that’ll be especially true this year.

“Anytime there’s an election year, you’re going to have some legislators doing a little bit of what could be called grandstanding by introducing bills that really don’t have any chance of passing but they’ll get a lot of attention in the media and it shows the folks back home that they’re trying to do something, however ridiculous, about a serious problem,” Crawford said.

One bill already filed calls for a constitutional convention.

Republicans are in the majority so they will set the session’s agenda. They still want to overhaul the tax code. And some recently suggested re-instating a grocery tax.

But University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock says, that’s a no-go.

“That would be tough sell at any point because people have gotten used to not paying it," he said in a phone interview. "But I think it would be really a hard sell with the election coming up.”

Lawmakers will tackle at least one big issue. Gov. Nathan Deal wants criminal sentencing reform, including special courts for drug-related offenses. With corrections costing $1 billion a year, that idea will likely yield a change to state law.