ATLANTA -- There’s a simple way that even the least experienced statehouse observer can tell at a glance which committees are the important ones. Count the Democrats.
If Democrats make up less than one-third of a committee’s membership, then the Republicans are overrepresented for a reason.
The partisan split in the House and the Senate is almost exactly one-third Democrats, two-thirds Republicans.
Democrats don’t have a majority on any House committee, meaning they can only amend or approve a bill with the support of Republicans.
If the GOP committee members stick together, Democrats will never succeed. That means the leadership is ensuring that even if a few Republicans stray from the party line, the majority still prevails. The more lopsided the committee, the more insurance the leadership apparently wants.
Consider a few examples. The House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, has 17 Republicans and just four Democrats or just 19 percent, the same proportions as the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn.
On the other hand, the House Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, the House Code Revision Committee chaired by Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, and the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee headed by Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, each are made up of 40 percent Democrats.
Agriculture was fairly busy with 28 bills assigned to it in the last two years. Appropriations got 36.
On the other hand, panels where the Democrats have greater say weren’t so busy. Budget Oversight got just 11, and Code Revision only got three.
Intragovernmental handles all local bills, but its members don’t meet or vote since passage is determined by lawmakers from the individual cities and counties affected.
A new committee, Juvenile Justice, chaired by Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, is almost evenly divided. That is interesting for this session because one of the major bills will be a revision of all the laws concerning juveniles, but members of the Judiciary Non-Civil considered a similar proposal last year and will certainly have it assigned to them again.
Then there is the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure which has four senior Republicans and zero Democrats. Apparently, it’s one to watch for significant legislation.
Among the minor committees are four in the Senate that Democrats even chair, such as Interstate Cooperation headed by Sen. Hardie Davis of Augusta and Urban Affairs headed by Sen. Ed Harbison of Columbus. Those two committees were assigned one bill each in the last two years.
Having committees that consider few bills may not serve much of a legislative function, but it serves a political one. Every legislator has to be assigned to a certain number of committees, and the duds provide assignments for minority-party lawmakers where they can’t stir up much mischief for the majority.
It’s not only minority-party legislators who wind up in committee exile.
Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, predicted he would be punished for speaking critically of giving power to the man who controls the assignments, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
“If there’s a Garbage Committee, I’ll be on it,” Crane said after his second floor speech opposing the power shift.
Indeed, he landed on the Retirement, Special Judiciary, State & Local Government Operations, and the State Institutions & Property committees. His presence alone proves those panels are effectively dumping grounds.