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Lawmakers’ legislative session kickoff includes football highlight reel

Georgia lawmakers kicked off their 2018 General Assembly session on Monday — and psyched themselves up for the 8 p.m. kickoff later in the day.

From University of Georgia football highlight reels on the House floor to lawmakers awash in red and black, the start of the legislative session was mostly lighthearted before the start of the College Football Playoff national championship.

Lawmakers gaveled in mid-morning Monday and revived many of the 2017 bills that were tabled at the end of last year’s session.

“Today was a lot of welcome back and UGA this and UGA that,” said Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville. “I think other than that we got our schedule for the month of January.”

Lawmakers will be in session for 11 days through the rest of the month.

A significant moment came before noon in the Senate when Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, was officially voted in as Senate president pro tem, making him the second-in-command of the Senate. Miller is now second only to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, president of the Senate.

An often-discussed issue around the legislature Monday, and in the days leading up to the session, has been the 2017 adoption reform bill that died in the final hours of the previous session. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston have called for a “clean” version of the bill to be passed by lawmakers early in the session.

Miller told The Times on Monday that the bill was “an important bill for Georgia, and it’s an even more important bill for families.” He said lawmakers had a responsibility to make adoption “as seamless as possible” in Georgia, and that a bill would be coming in the first weeks of the session.

House Bill 159 lowered barriers to adopt children in Georgia, opening the system to nonresidents and made many other reforms to the system, which hadn’t been overhauled for 27 years.

The bill faltered last year when the Senate added an amendment to the bill allowing private nonprofit adoption services to refuse placing adoptive children in homes on religious or ideological grounds. The amendment was added in the Senate after the bill unanimously passed the House.

Meanwhile, Dubnik said he heard about three issues more than any others on Monday: rural Georgia, health care and transportation.

Miller noted those issues and a few others as being on the legislative agenda this year: economic development and reform of criminal and juvenile justice — including additional changes to law enforcement pay in the state.

The senator also said he intends to continue reforms to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

“We’ve made great progress in the DFCS area, but there’s a lot to be done,” Miller said, noting that he aimed to get a bill through that makes changes to “staffing levels” and “credentialing” of employees to get the “right people in the right positions and (help) the agencies — and agencies in general — find the right people and attract the right kind of talent.”

He said he would have a better grasp of legislative priorities in the Senate by the end of the week.

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