Every year, the Georgia General Assembly goes through a lengthy, difficult process to pass laws and a budget for the coming year, and students all across the state of Georgia have the opportunity to play a role in the process. The legislative session lasts a total of 40 legislative days, beginning in January and stretching until the end of March. During the session, the state constitutionally only has to pass a budget, but dozens of laws are passed along with the budget as the legislators constantly try to improve our state. Georgia college students who participate in the Georgia Legislative Internship Program become involved by helping senators and representatives with tasks throughout the session. From simply grabbing a coffee to writing bills for the members of the legislature, legislative aides have an important role in helping the session run smoothly, and it is a great experience for anyone who participates.
As the program is beginning, each aide is placed in an office with a representative, a senator, or in one of the various offices that contribute to the legislative process. Each aide goes through an interview process to see what segments of the legislative process interest them, and they get placed based on their specific interests.
A former GLIP aide, Tyler Kaplan, landed in the office of the then-chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Operations committee, Butch Miller (R-Gainesville). Kaplan enjoyed working with Miller, and he gained a lot of exposure to the legislative process. Along with being a committee chairman, Miller was also a floor leader for the governor at the time. A floor leader acts as a liaison for the governor in the legislature so the governor’s priorities are spoken for. Kaplan is now a lobbyist at the capitol and has been for the past several sessions. As a young university student who originally was barely interested in politics, Kaplan said he “can’t imagine something else he’d do with his life.”
Going into the internship program, many do not know fully what to expect. There is so much intricacy to the government and its processes that any class or book can only scratch the surface of what really goes on. Kaplan described how, when he first showed up to the capitol, he didn’t know a lot about the legislature or government. Throughout the session, aides get to experience firsthand what happens behind closed doors with both lobbyists and members of the legislature.
For third year public policy major Abby Peters who worked as a GLIP aide in the office of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), “the lobbyists were the biggest surprise.” Peters said that during session, lobbyists are allowed to “walk all over the capitol,” and they have free range to talk with any senator or representative they can get time with.
As a lobbyist himself, Kaplan explained how small the community is. When first beginning his work, Kaplan was surprised at how “insular the world is, everyone knows everyone, and being an intern is the best way to break into this work.” As we spoke, Kaplan looked out and said he personally knew each one of the about 25 lobbyists in the field of view, and this is very unique to the world of the Georgia capitol.
The GLIP aides get a unique and up-close view on the session, and being this close to Georgia’s politics reveals things that the media will not always show the public. Having watched lots of deliberation and discussion between senators in the chamber, Peters noted how she was surprised that certain issues resulted in stark party line votes. There were very select issues that came through this session that the majority party chose to run as priorities, and the bills related to these issues often went through with total support from the majority party. These bills led to more contentious arguments and disagreements from the minority party, but no matter how much opposition the bills were met with, these bills still passed with full majority party votes.
Although some major issues did result in party line votes, a lot of the work done in the capitol is bipartisan. Many of the bills coming through session are very beneficial for the citizens of Georgia, and the members focus a lot of their efforts on ways to serve their constituents better. For example, Senate Majority Caucus Chair Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) introduced a bill requiring schools around Georgia to come up with plans for any students with epilepsy, and this bill passed both the House and Senate with no votes in opposition. The work by Anavitarte in raising this important concern will go on to benefit hundreds of Georgians, and work like this helps us see that our legislators do really care about what they are working on for Georgians.
Aside from watching Senators and Representatives navigate all sorts of bills, students in GLIP get a lot of exposure to the day-to- day tasks that make our state legislature run smoothly. Aides help write talking points for bill presentations, get signatures on new bills and resolutions, and sometimes even contribute language to a new bill being presented.
Shree Joshi is a third year public policy major at Georgia Tech who was assigned to the office of the governor’s floor leaders, just like Kaplan several sessions ago. Joshi said she “learned the ins and outs of the political process, the effect that stakeholders have on legislation, and how constituent concerns are dealt with.” Being in and around several senators and representatives gave her a good understanding of both chambers, especially seeing the interactions of the floor leaders for both.
Adding onto new concepts learned from this program, Peters emphasized how “money talks here.” Lobbyists and other organizations have significant influence on members of the legislature, and where money comes from can frequently be an influential factor in decisions. After several years and several sessions, Kaplan said that “it’s very easy to be mediocre in this business. To be really great, you have to be willing to work yourself to the bone.” This is an important lesson that aides, lobbyists, and members alike could use to improve their work rate and accomplishments.
During the session, there are two major deadlines. The first of the two is Crossover Day, the last day for bills to be passed out of their original chamber. If a bill is not passed out of the chamber it was introduced in by this day, it can be heard next year for another attempt, but it is considered dead for the rest of this year. Every member is attempting to pass their bills, so this day can be quite long. The Senate and House were both in session until almost midnight, with only a few short breaks. With all the members in the chamber most of the day, Joshi said that “crossover day is hectic.” The members are anxious about their bills but are also thinking about the other dozens of bills on the table, and it feels like a sprint through the nearly 16 hours of work. Watching Crossover Day for the first time is daunting, as many pieces are moving around all day, and Kaplan said that for him it “took three years to truly figure out what was going on.” Many aides sympathize with this because of the sheer chaos that unfolds at the capitol, but all of the action is very unique to watch.
The other day during the session that sticks out is Sine Die, day 40 of session. Sine Die is the final day in the Georgia legislative session to pass any laws, and it is an exciting, down-to-the-wire endeavor. Some members arrive as early as seven in the morning, and session did not end this year until a quarter past midnight. Similar to Crossover Day, bills were being discussed and voted on all day, with breaks every few hours. As midnight approached, Chairman Tillery — Peters’ boss who oversees the Senate’s budget deliberations — presented a final copy of the Georgia fiscal year 2024 budget for one last vote. Once the bill passed, the Georgia session could now legally end for the year. After a few more bills, the lieutenant governor, who serves as president of the Senate, was finally ready to call an end to the session. In eager anticipation, senators, aides, and spectators began ripping up pieces of paper, and in a ceremonial way, the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor both struck the gavel together and called an end to session. With the decree of adjournment sine die, the air is littered with paper like confetti, and members begin hugging and celebrating the good work and long hours that are finally over. Even though the session is a lot of work in a short amount of time, when asked about their time there, almost everyone — aides, door keepers, lobbyists, and legislators — say they are excited to come back to that special building next year.
Taking a step back from those hectic days, the session as a whole is a one-of-a-kind experience for any college student who gets the opportunity. Being up close and personal with so many people and bills, there is no better way to learn how government truly works. According to Joshi, “working in the Capitol shows you firsthand what you learn in classes at Georgia Tech.” The classes at the various Georgia colleges are preparing students well, but there is nothing better than real, hands-on experience to show how the government works. Peters and Joshi highly recommend those interested in pursuing any form of government or lobbying work to consider applying for GLIP next year.