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Johnny Vardeman: State lawmakers once tried to tax singles over age 30
Johnny Vardeman

The Georgia General Assembly is in session as usual in January, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Years ago, sessions were held in the summer. Imagine, in the days of no air conditioning, how those debates must have steamed up the place.

In the early 1900s, the debate was over how often the legislature should meet. At the time it would meet regularly only once every two years unless there was a call for a special session. A special session back then cost all of $20,000, which at today’s pace would last only a few minutes. A compromise proposal would have legislators convene three times within two years. 

The issues in those days were different, yet the same. Roads and budgets dominated sessions. They even called an extra session in 1919 just to deal with roads, an apparent response to the proliferation of automobiles on inadequate highways.

Georgia didn’t have 159 counties back then, but there was considerable discussion about them. Some people wanted more; some people fewer. Today, Georgia is second only to Texas in the number of counties. Some continue to argue that 159 is too many.

Actually, Georgia had 161 counties until 1932 when Campbell and Milton counties merged with Fulton County.

The last county to be formed was Peach in 1924, and there was considerable consternation in the legislature about that one. Peach took parts of Houston and Macon counties, which were opposed to the idea for obvious reasons, but also didn’t want another county nearby with Fort Valley its county seat.

In 1907, a “reform legislature” met in special session in the heat of August, but what reform that might have occurred perhaps didn’t stick. One reform measure was an anti-lobbying bill that would have outlawed “professional lobbyists.” Some have tried to rein in lobbyists ever since, but they continue to play a role and be an influence in the legislature.

Legislatures do some weird things sometimes. In 1921, legislators tried to impose a $5 tax on unmarried people over age 30. “Looks like Cupid and the legislature have formed a partnership,” one wag commented.

The legislature did impose a tax on dogs at one point, and it became a warm issue. Finally it was repealed.

North Georgia Agricultural College, now the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, was proud to get a $5,000 raise in 1915. The state budget increased its appropriation from $21,500 to $26,500.

In running for re-election to the Georgia House of Representatives, Hall County’s John A. Pierce insisted he was never drunk on the floor of the House and never visited “a lewd house” in Atlanta while the General Assembly was in session. His opponents had claimed he was drunk every day the legislature met.

Doesn’t seem so long ago that in 1989, the late Wyc Orr was sworn into his first term in the Georgia House of Representatives. His Hall County colleagues were Jerry Jackson and Bobby Lawson. All were Democrats. Their counterpart in the Senate was none other than Nathan Deal, then also a Democrat, but a few days ago returned to the legislature to deliver somewhat of a swan song in his final year as a Republican governor.

In that same year, 1989, Joe Frank Harris was governor and vehemently opposed the proposed Georgia state lottery. The lieutenant governor was Zell Miller, who was campaigning for a lottery, which he finally accomplished when he became governor. John Foster of Cornelia, a champion for education, served with Miller and Deal in the Senate that year, and Tom Murphy was serving his ninth term as House Speaker.

1989 was a significant year in other respects. It was the final year for Vince Dooley as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. A hard act to follow, he was succeeded by Ray Goff, who fell far short of Dooley’s record.

First Atlanta Bank announced it would build a seven-story building at the corner of what is now E.E. Butler Parkway and Jesse Jewell Parkway. Wells-Fargo and other offices now occupy the building.

Lakeshore Mall that year contained 90 businesses, including Belk, Roses, JCPenney and Sears.

Hall County would start building a parking deck at the corner of East Spring and what is now E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; e-mail

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