ATLANTA -- Unlike most opening days of the General Assembly, the Senate got right to work debating substantive legislation Monday.
It took an hour to debate and pass Senate Bill 184 that removes seniority protections for teachers. The bill was a leftover from the 2011 regular session when time ran out for consideration.
The measure had originated in the Senate, but the Senate still needed to give its OK to changes made by the House last year before the final gavel fell ending that session. It wasn’t subject to a vote during the special session last year which only dealt with redistricting.
Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams said the bill would strengthen education by removing a requirement that all layoffs be done on the basis of seniority.
“They have to fire the last person they hired, even if they were the best teacher in the state,” Williams, R-Lyons, said of the existing law.
Democrats opposed the bill on the party-line vote.
Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, asked Williams why the bill was up for a vote on the first day of the session when two senators elected last fall during special elections had not had a chance to study it.
“We’re talking about process and the way things ought to be done,” he said.
Action in the House was more routine. It passed resolutions inviting the governor and chief justice to address joint legislative sessions and a schedule for the next three weeks, including a recess all of next week for budget committee meetings.
“After that, we’re going to regroup and see what we’ll do then,” said House Republican Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire.
Another uncommon experience were demonstrations on the first day. Several hundred mothers and children crowded the hallways and chanted in support of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a state welfare program they’re hoping to be spared budget cutting.
Outside, two hundred or so supporters of Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rallied against the death penalty. Many held posters or wore buttons with a photo of Troy Davis, a Savannah man executed last year for killing an off-duty policeman.
“If they can do it to him, they could do it to any of us,” said Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague, D-Red Oak.
As in most years, legislation is pending calling for a halt to capital punishment, but the bills never come up for a vote in committee. This year, Senate Democratic Whip Vincent Fort of Atlanta announced plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit a death sentence based solely on eyewitness testimony.
Davis supporters say seven of nine eyewitnesses to the fatal shooting backed away from all or part of their testimony by the time he was executed.