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Crawford: Legislature is slowing down this year
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In all the years I've reported on the activities of the General Assembly, a criticism I have heard many times is that Georgia's legislators introduce too many bills and pass too many laws.

Back when Democrats held control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, their Republican counterparts often made the point that someday, when their party was in power, they would stop introducing so much legislation. That was in keeping with the quote that's usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "That government is best which governs least."

When Republicans assumed control of the House and Senate after the 2004 elections, they were finally in a position to deliver on that promise.

"I don't have any predisposed agenda, other than less is more," said the first Republican House speaker, Glenn Richardson, as his party took over. "It's OK with me if we do very little. I believe we have enough laws for our citizens."

"Legislation should be a last resort, not a first reaction," said Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville.

As it turned out, once they grabbed the levers of political power, Republicans introduced and passed just as many measures as their Democratic colleagues once had, if not more.

In 2001, which was the starting year for the last session where Democrats controlled both chambers, a total of 1,290 bills were introduced by lawmakers and 396 of those bills were passed by the House and Senate.

In 2005, the first year in which Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, there were a total of 1,304 bills introduced, with 408 of them being passed by the two chambers.

What that shows is simply this: Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, legislators are going to introduce legislation. That's what they are elected to do. It's part of their political DNA.

To ask a legislator not to introduce bills is as futile as asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.

In this year's General Assembly session, however, the advocates of smaller government and less legislation are finally having their day. For the first time in a long time, there are actually fewer bills being drafted and introduced by the members of the House and Senate.

As of Feb. 10, there had been 240 bills introduced and formally assigned to a committee in the House. There were only 68 bills introduced and sent to committee in the Senate.

That's a big reduction from the activity of past sessions. In 2007, by contrast, 376 House bills and 143 Senate bills had already been introduced as of the Feb. 10 date. In 2005, the number was 419 House bills and 167 Senate bills.

As the numbers show, lawmakers are introducing a little more than half as many bills as they normally would have dropped by this point in past sessions

Two factors could account for this slowdown. For one, there's very little money in the budget for legislators to divide among themselves. In fact, they will have to cut $1 billion or so from the state budget for the next fiscal year. Without an influx of money to fund new programs, there's no use in introducing bills to create them.

There are also fewer lobbyists showing up at the Capitol for this session. On most days, you can walk through the third floor hallways without having to elbow them out of your way.

The lack of budget money could be one reason for the thinner ranks of lobbyists. Another factor could be the $320 registration fee they are now required to pay when they register for the session. For whatever reason, you've got fewer lobbyists urging legislators to introduce bills for them.

Lawmakers have also been very slow to vote on the bills that they do introduce. The legislative session formally convened on Jan. 10, but the House didn't get around to passing its first bill — a measure renaming the technical college board — until Feb. 8. The Senate did not pass its first bill, a measure requiring municipal court judges to be attorneys, until Feb. 10.

I never thought I'd see the day when Georgia legislators actually slowed down and introduced a smaller number of bills, but it's happening. Maybe with less legislation, they'll be involved in less mischief.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on