ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers began what will be a contentious legislative session Monday, but much of the intrigue stayed muted on this first day.
Republicans and Democrats lined up to enter a makeshift COVID-19 testing clinic on the capitol’s second floor – in the bipartisan spirit of maintaining the good during the 40-day session.
The spirit extended to a bipartisan photoshoot of Cobb County lawmakers before the House convened.
Most of all, it was about the University of Georgia, its emblem emblazoned on the face mask of House speaker David Ralston, and its fight song playing as the House session started. The session was brief to accommodate lawmakers who aim to watch the national championship football game against the University of Alabama Monday night.
The divisive stuff will start in earnest Wednesday. Republicans are producing bills to eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes, to create a separate city in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, and to eliminate the conceal-carry gun permit requirement.
The bipartisan spirit of this first day "is going to last about as long as the football game tonight, and then it’ll be over. It’s not gonna last that long," said House Democratic leader Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon).
Beverly said the gun bill in particular, called constitutional carry, is wrongheaded.
"Constitutional carry doesn’t make any sense in this day and age and we’ll certainly fight it," he said.
It will be an uphill fight for Democrats, who are in the minority during an election year.
"We need constitutional carry. As law abiding citizens, we have the right to bear arms by the constitution of this great country," said state Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gillsville), who introduced a constitutional carry bill last year.
Dunahoo said his constituents are clamoring for greater freedom to carry firearms without having to purchase a government permit.
"I think it’s the right time to do it. Every time I’ve gone to speak everyone asks, number one, we need no mandatory vaccines. Number two, we need constitutional carry," Dunahoo said.
Democrats view the gun bill as wrongheaded in light of rising gun violence.
Democrats will also fight a bill to break off Buckhead into a city separate from Atlanta. They’ll fight a Republican bill to do away with absentee ballot drop boxes, popular in the 2020 election and credited for helping flip the state to elect Joe Biden and two Democratic U.S. senators.
"When the dust settles, we’ll be a faithful opposition to a party that has lost its way," Beverly said.
Yet the Republicans still run both houses of this legislature. They have a long history of advancing their agenda in spite of resistance from Democrats.