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General Assembly will split session
Lawmakers to finish budget in June, stimulus or no
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Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle speaks with reporters at the Capitol following Friday’s session.

The Georgia House and Senate each voted Friday to split their 40-day legislative session into two parts, meeting on a slower schedule through March and then convening again in June.

The House approved the resolution unanimously; the Senate passed it 43-8.

The move is designed to give the General Assembly time to react to the funds expected from Washington as a part of the federal stimulus package that the U.S. Senate agreed to Friday.

"We’re waiting on Washington," said Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. "We need to know what is coming, particularly in areas such as Medicaid."

The state constitution requires the legislature to meet for 40 days each year, but the days do not have to be consecutive.

Lawmakers are in limbo as they deal with a $2.2 billion budget shortfall and the possibility of an infusion of $5.6 billion in federal cash.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen says budget-writers are working on versions of a spending plan that include a stimulus and versions that don’t include it. He says they want the ability to come back later this year to amend the budget in case the federal dollars come through.

The resolution directs that the General Assembly reconvene in late June just prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1.

"It wasn’t surprising," said state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. "It gives us time to make good, informed decisions."

In the meantime, legislators will meet three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, through March 25.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said there is an agreement to pass both an amended budget for the current year and a budget for fiscal year 2010 prior to the March 25 adjournment.

The remaining five days in June would be used to make adjustments based on changes in federal funds or if state revenue collections are lower than expected.

The decision creates a potential roadblock for Cagle, Secretary of State Karen Handel, and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, all candidates for governor in 2010.

Under Georgia law, state elected officials cannot receive campaign contributions while the legislature is in session. When lawmakers will be adjourned from the end of March until late June, the legislature will be considered in session. In that period, candidates for state office, including members of the legislature, cannot accept campaign funds until the session has ended.

"Who cares about fundraising?" Cagle told reporters after the session on Friday. "The real issue of the day is taking care of the people of Georgia. There will be plenty of time for campaigning once we do the right thing."

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