Thursday is Day 30 of of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session. It's the day when lawmakers separate the wheat from the chaff in legislative terms. It’s also one of the longest days of the session at the Gold Dome.
On the 30th day, lawmakers often work from 10 a.m. to midnight. That’s because any bill with a shot at final passage this year must have passed one or the other chamber by the end of the day.
That makes for a long one, not just for them, but also for the Capitol’s staff and for lobbyists.
Senate doorkeeper Bob White has worked at the Capitol for eight years.
“So what’s Day 30 like?”
"It’s kind of hectic, long, tiring and sometimes boring,” he said in an interview this week.
Neill Herring is a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. He’s been working the halls of the Capitol for more than 30 years, and has a slightly different take.
“Day 30, Crossover Day, is a dress rehearsal for the last day of the session,” he said.
Actually, he has two takes on it.
“This is kind of like a basketball game that’s been going on for a long time between two rival teams and a whole lot players have fouled out of the game. And there are only five players left that haven’t fouled out of the game,” he added.
What Herring means, is: some bills have already died in committee. Others, like the mid-year budget and a bill to extend the Medicaid provider fee, have passed both chambers and require no further action.
And after Day 30, the remaining bills – the ones that have passed either the House or the Senate -- are the only ones that might become law.
Rep. Carolyn Hughley, a Columbus Democrat, says lawmakers feel a sense of urgency.
“It’s a day that every legislator is looking out to get their bills across to the other chamber. It’s your last chance for the bill to stay alive that day so it is a frantic day.”
Tom Crawford, who edits the online political digest, The Georgia Report, says lawmakers will be debating some of the more controversial bills drafted this session.
“I think for sure we’ll be seeing some bills to open up the state’s gun-carry laws to make it easier to carry guns on places like college campuses," he said. "There’s a lot of pressure to get a bill like that out. Oddly enough, in other parts of the country they’re trying to restrict the carrying of guns. Here in Georgia we see things a little differently and they want to open them up a little wider.”
Some Capitol insiders say the pace of debate on Day 30 might be slower this year. That’s because there are fewer bills to discuss. And they can defer action on certain bills until later in the session.
For example, an ethics reform bill that would limit lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers has already passed the House. That means, it’s already certain it will stay alive until the end of the session.
But lawmakers will still likely debate dozens of measures in the course of the day.
Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, says he and his colleagues will vote on so many bills on Day 30 and Day 40, that sometimes they’ll inadvertently overlook some unintended consequences.
“That’s why oftentimes with Georgia being one of the shortest legislative sessions with 40 days, often we have to repair things we did the year before because of the shortness of the session and us being part-time legislators,” he said on a break from votes in the Senate
In the final ten days of the session, Senators debate bills drafted by representatives from the House, and vice versa. Bills also sometimes return from the other chamber with changes.
In addition, lawmakers will have to finish work on the 2014 budget. It’s actually the only bill the state Constitution requires them to pass.