Originally created 01/25/03

Gold Dome offers history to visitors



ATLANTA - The opening of the Georgia General Assembly each January draws a host of lawmakers, lobbyists and political die-hards back to the Gold Dome of the state Capitol.

The 40-day session is an excellent chance for civics junkies and novices to witness government in action.

"We do offer guided tours, Monday through Friday," said Joan Simmons, the manager of tours for the Capitol Education Center."It lasts a total of about one hour and 15 minutes."

A walk around the marble-floored building, built in 1889, offers visitors a chance to see more than just their hometown representatives at work.

The Capitol also holds a collection of museum displays, featuring almost every corner of Georgia's geography from the Appalachian Trail to the coastal barrier islands.

The halls are also filled with portraits and busts of the state's past leaders, including Jimmy Carter, Eugene Talmadge and Alexander H. Stephens.

The most recent addition to the Capitol is a portrait of former Gov. Roy Barnes, prominently featuring the new state flag that was adopted by the Legislature during his only term.

Georgia's General Assembly meets each year, beginning on the second Monday in January. Each session lasts 40 work days and is usually spread out over a period of two to three months, with lawmakers taking days off for budget hearings and committee meetings.

The later in the winter they arrive, the more likely Capitol visitors are to encounter politicians as work piles up toward the end of the session.

Visitors are able to meet and greet lawmakers in the halls of the Capitol, though it is never a certainty when the bell signaling a vote on the chamber floors will sound, causing them to rush back to their seats.

Also, armies of lobbyists and interest groups often surround the lawmakers, fighting for a few minutes of their time.

A suspended balcony offers views of the House and the Senate to those who wish to follow along as bills are debated. Television monitors in the halls allow those unable to find seats in the balconies a way to keep up with the day's events.

If hunger strikes, three nearby cafeterias offer visitors a chance to glimpse Georgia's leaders in a more relaxed setting. The Grill on the Hill, located in the Legislative Office Building across the street from the Capitol, is a favorite breakfast spot for lawmakers who try to squeeze work meetings in before the day's session begins.

Other options include the Garden Room Cafe, at the Capitol Education Center, and the cafeteria, located in the Floyd Building.

The Capitol is currently in the middle of a restoration process, touching up nearly every aspect of the building.

"They do stop during the legislative session," Ms. Simmons said.

Scaffolding surrounding the dome of the Capitol will remain in place until the repair work is finished in spring. The dome is one of the highlights of the building, gilded in gold donated by Lumpkin County in 1958.

Tours of the Capitol begin at the Capitol Education Center, located across the street. Visitors also are free to roam the building on their own, creating their own itinerary.

Parking is available in several nearby decks and lots, typically costing between $3 and $7, depending on how long the car is parked.

CAPITOL TOURS

Tours are available during the legislative session at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and at 1 and 2 p.m.

Tours are available at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and at 1 and 2 p.m. April-December

Call (404) 656-2844

Tours begin at the Capitol Education Center, 180 Central Ave., Atlanta, GA 30303

The Capitol is open to the public 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is closed on weekends and holidays.

You do not need to register for a tour to visit the Capitol.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.