Lawmaking at Capitol open for public viewing

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ATLANTA - Votes on the House and Senate floors are viewable for the public, as are committee meetings, where bills are fine-tuned.

The daily itinerary is posted each morning on the Web at www.legis.state.ga.us. Only special events, such as Gov. Sonny Perdue's State of the State address, require tickets.

Attendance is often sparse within the galleries of the Senate and House chambers, except when controversial issues arise, said Merri Brantley, the director of the Senate Press Office.

Last year, illegal immigration reform and voter identification requirements were among the issues drawing the largest crowds.

On most days, more than 90 percent of the audience is made up of children on school field trips, she said.

Both the Senate and House galleries are located on the third floor of the Capitol building, where spectators can watch the deliberations from the balcony.

In the Senate, individual votes on bills are listed on a giant screen, and in the past, some spectators have voiced their displeasure with the results, but it's not like a sporting event.

"You can't boo if you disagree with a bill," Ms. Brantley said. "If you do, you'll kindly be escorted by security."

Political debate is not the sole draw.

In addition to the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, the Capitol houses the Georgia Capitol Museum, which details the history of the building.

Last week, visitor Thomas Whitman, of Marietta, marveled at the architecture of the more than 120-year-old building.

"It's pretty impressive to see a structure like this when so many buildings are torn down every day," the 55-year-old said.

Although he was less interested in the political activities inside the building, he commended the open nature of the meetings, because he said it reduced the appearance of wrongdoing among legislators.

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