To judge the 2015 legislative session that ended shortly after midnight Thursday, recall the situation as I summarized it after the 2014 session:
“As Georgia’s legislators … prepared to adjourn for the year, a lot of people who put a lot of work into the session found themselves wondering why they had bothered. Advocates for charter-school kids, foster kids, autistic kids and seizure-prone kids joined business groups, religious groups, cityhood proponents and most taxpayers in watching legislators abandon their causes in the final days and hours of the session.
“Fingers were pointed. House leaders expressed disbelief at senators’ intransigence on minor changes to benefit charter schools and an ever-diminishing medical marijuana bill for those kids with seizures. Senators expressed equal exasperation at the House’s refusal to pass an autism insurance mandate and a scaled-back privatization of the state’s foster care and adoption services.”
Now consider what was accomplished in 2015:
- Gov. Nathan Deal’s constitutional amendment to allow state intervention in perennially failing schools cleared both houses.
- A $900 million transportation-funding plan not only passed but managed to get two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
- The medical marijuana and autism issues from 2014 were resolved.
- The cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker were approved, although two other proposals got caught in political cross-fire.
- Free-market legislation hotly contested in 2014 regarding ride-sharing services such as Uber, direct sales by Tesla, and third-party solar-energy financing arrangements were passed with relative ease this time.
- Two simple but important charter-school measures — to prevent a repeat of the local-government bullying Utopian Academy for the Arts experienced last fall when trying to open in Clayton County, and to allow charter schools to give preference to “educationally disadvantaged” students — passed.
Deal, in remarks last night to each chamber, called this year’s session “one of the most significant … in the recent history of this state.” I can’t argue.
Yes, there are other issues still on the table: A broad tax reform plan was unveiled to much fanfare and promptly went into hiding, though the transportation bill calls for a bill to be introduced next year; an update to the state’s school-funding formula and other reforms are in the hands of Deal’s education reform commission with a package of legislation slated for 2016; a big-picture look at health care remains but an idea; pension reform barely made the radar; the religious-liberty bill again fell apart under a wave of evidence-averse criticism plus the outright hysteria witnessed in Indiana over the past week.
But if there were fears that, after punting on the biggest issues in 2014 because of an election, legislators would shirk them again in 2015 because their plates were too full, they proved unfounded. Lawmakers proved they can work through a number of important, much-debated issues without the session dragging on too far into spring. There’s no reason they can’t do the same again in 2016 — and beyond.