ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s new and veteran lawmakers arrived at the University of Georgia Sunday for a three-day education on some of the biggest issues they’ll face in the legislative session that begins Jan. 12.

Freshmen legislators got some basic training in the morning before their seasoned colleagues joined them after lunch for a confidential briefing on the state’s finances. The evening wound up with a cocktail reception hosted by the university and a free concert by the Kinchafoonee Cowboys at the Georgian Theatre.

The freshmen were formally introduced, even those who had been elected sometime in the last two years in special elections or who had moved from the House to the Senate.

Among the newcomers to the Senate are Ben Watson, R-Savannah, Ellis Black, R-Valdosta, Harold Jones, D-Augusta and John F. Kennedy, R-Macon.

Watson and Black are among the former House members joining the Senate. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle poked a little fun at them.
“Let me begin with the first member we’ll have to retrain,” Cagle said, as the screen showed the official photo of Watson, winner of the seat given up by Buddy Carter who won election to Congress.

The House freshmen include Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick, Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, and Brian Prince, D-Augusta.

There was also a brief farewell by Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, who announced he will resign after being sworn in next month due to his health. He is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and during his 22 years in the House became known as the best expert on healthcare.

“I consider myself among the luckiest men in Georgia,” he said.

UGA President Jere Morehead welcomed the officials and urged them to call on the school’s experts for assistance researching issues and getting policy recommendations.

“I have said over and over again that a strong and vibrant state of Georgia is critical to the University of Georgia,” he told them.
The university’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government has put on 28 previous conferences every two years to preview sessions of the General Assembly.

“We’re excited about the program we’ve lined up for you,” said House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
Speakers will update them on topics including the state’s motion-picture industry, Savannah River deepening, economic development and healthcare. One of the biggest issues is transportation funding, and observers are eager to hear what will be proposed.

Gov. Nathan Deal addresses the lawmakers over lunch Tuesday and then speaks across Athens at a conference on transportation organized by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

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