Robin Michener Nathan The Times
State Rep. Doug Collins, left, a new member of the Hall County legislative delegation, talks to Rep. James Mills in the House chamber on the first day of the 2007 General Assembly session.
For The Times
Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, answers questions from colleagues as Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle presides over Hawkins' first appearance in the Senate well.
Represents: Senate District 49 (all of Hall County, part of Jackson County)
Residence: North Hall
Personal: Wife Sharon, seven children
Religious affiliation: St. Paul United Methodist Church
Political experience: Serving first term in elected office
Committee memberships: Reapportionment and Redistricting (vice chairman), Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (secretary ), Health and Human Services, Natural Resources and the Environment, State and Local Governmental Operations
Capitol contacts: 304-A Coverdell Building, Atlanta, 30334, (404) 656-6578, (770) 983-0960; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Represents: House District 27 (part of Hall County, part of Lumpkin County, and part of White County
Personal: Wife Lisa, three children, one grandchild
Religious affiliation: Lakewood Baptist Church
Political experience: Serving first term in elected office
Committee memberships: Children & Youth, Judiciary Non-Civil, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Health and Human Services
Capitol contacts: 504 Coverdell Building, Atlanta, 30334, (404) 656-0188; e-mail, email@example.com
In the state Senate, there is an initiation event which takes place when a freshman senator comes to the well to speak on legislation for the first time.
The tradition is that senators pepper the speaker with a seemingly endless barrage of questions, most of which are tongue-in-cheek.
For Lee Hawkins, his indoctrination came Wednesday when he stood before the Senate to speak on a resolution urging a 2-foot increase in the full pool of Lake Lanier.
When Hawkins finished his brief explanation of the resolution, the good-natured fun began.
"Does anyone have any questions for freshman senator from the 49th," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who preceded Hawkins in the senate seat. Cagle's emphasis on the word "freshman," resulted in sending the hands of most of the 56 senators skyward to participate in the initiation ritual. In mock seriousness, his colleagues asked scientific sounding questions about disbursement of water and movement of fish if the lake level went up.
Hawkins soon realized he was the victim of a prank and took the entire episode in stride.
"They weren't mean to me at all," Hawkins said. "They had a little fun."
Across the Capitol, Doug Collins is also settling in for his first session as a member of the House. Like Hawkins, Collins has also been the lead sponsor on a few pieces of legislation.
This week, the General Assembly passed the halfway point of the 2007 session and the two newest members of the Hall County delegation admit that the first weeks have been a learning experience.
"The pace of things has surprised me," Collins said. "There have been several hectic days where I had four meetings scheduled within 10 minutes of each other."
Collins said his greatest teachers have been fellow lawmakers.
"For me, every part of the day is a learning process," Collins said. "I take it each day to find a new step in the process. Sometimes, that's sitting down with a committee chairman or another member and asking how they deal with specific issues."
While Hawkins was no stranger to the Gold Dome, he has found it interesting viewing the session from the perspective of a voting senator.
"I'm impressed with the caliber of people serving in the Senate," Hawkins said.
Each morning before the session is gaveled to order, the Republican caucus meets to review pending legislation and other matters.
"We really discuss the bills," he said.
While he is enjoying the term, he says that days can be long.
"Some mornings we start at 7 and sometimes there are receptions or dinners, which can last late into the evenings."
In the first half of the session, both the House and Senate have had relatively light agendas on the floor. However, both lawmakers say that intense work is going on in the various committees.
"We're moving a number of bills through committee," Hawkins said. "There is a lot more going on than meets the eye. One day this week there were 14 bills in the Rules committee, while just six were sent to the floor."
Hawkins, in his first piece of legislation, was successful in passage of a non-binding resolution encouraging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the full-pool level of Lake Lanier by two feet.
Hawkins' resolution only addressed the level of Lanier, while a similar resolution passed in the House made recommendations on the levels of other lakes on the Chattahoochee River.
Collins has the benefit of advice from two senior colleagues in the Hall County House delegation. Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, and Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, both have more than a dozen years in the House. The fourth member of the delegation, Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, began serving two years ago.
"Carl, James and Tommy have been great to help me anticipate things that are coming up," Collins said. "There are your office suite mates and folks you serve with on committees who offer their advice. I've enjoyed learning from a lot of perspectives."
Collins knows that the most important work of the session, passage of the state budget, is ahead of him.
"There are some big things on the horizon with the budget, including PeachCare, and other issues such as hospitals and health care in the remaining days," he said. "When I have a few minutes, I go to the Rules or the Appropriations committee and sit in to learn."
PeachCare is the state health care program for children. The program, which is largely funded by the federal government, is on the verge of exhausting its federal funds, leaving state officials scrambling to find a solution.
"The questions over PeachCare has slowed the budget process down," Hawkins said. "How can you tell a child 'no' when their parents are willing to participate in a paid program? These folks aren't asking for free programs, they're actually paying in a co-pay program. We're going to find a way to take care of these kids?"
The legislature reconvenes Tuesday for its 22nd day.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (770) 718-3423
Originally published Sunday, February 18, 2007