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Legislators spend uncomfortable day trying to agree on Kemp's emergency declaration for coronavirus

Georgia lawmakers take nearly eight hours to agree on emergency declaration

ATLANTA — An unlikely political and legal dispute consumed the Georgia State Capitol Monday as the General Assembly ratified the state of emergency declared by Gov. Brian Kemp.  

Lawmakers spent much of the day together at the Capitol on a day when doctors had discouraged the gathering of large crowds. 

Most legislators thought passage of the emergency resolution would be a formality.  

"We convened with the expectation we probably wouldn’t be here for more than 30 or 40 minutes. And we are still here, a few hours later," said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz (R-Smyrna) at around lunchtime.

Legislators didn't depart until after 4 pm.

At issue was the state of emergency declared by Gov. Brian Kemp – giving the governor broader powers to rein in the spread of COVID-19.  It would allow him to redirect government resources, suspend regulations and temporarily use private property to fight the outbreak.

"No one disagrees that granting these powers is the right thing to do," Anulewicz said. 

The disagreement arose between the House and Senate over whether lawmakers should have a say in it, if the state of emergency needs to be renewed after 30 days – or whether the governor could just do it himself.

By 4 pm, lawmakers had agreed on a compromise: They would require an extension of the state of emergency to be approved by lawmakers -- unless lawmakers were unable to reconvene in April, in which case the governor could do it solo.

Before Monday's session, many legislators stopped to see a doctor, Brett Cannon, who had deployed a battery-operated thermometer for use on their foreheads.

RELATED: Live updates: Coronavirus in Georgia

At that point, lawmakers had hoped to be able to minimize their contact with their colleagues -- and everybody else -- while conducting their business at the Capitol. 

Their nerves were somewhat eased by an absence of evidence of any fever – and perhaps by the absence 32 House colleagues who were granted excused absences from the special session.  

One unidentified House member had stayed away and self-quarantined because of contact with a patient diagnosed with COVID-19.

"I think some people are nervous. But we’re here," said state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), an RN who chairs the House Health and Human Services committee. "We’re trying to get our job done. We have a responsibility to do that. And so we’re just dealing with it."

Lawmakers went home -- with no plan to reconvene until after they think it’s safe to do so.

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