“Bipartisanship” is a favorite buzz word with politicians rallying for support around an issue, as well with pundits criticizing the politicians’ lack of said quality.  The call for bipartisanship is used so frequently, I suspect many people have developed a natural disregard for the term, believing that bipartisanship is an urban legend.

Yet this year Georgians have witnessed some strong bipartisan work under the Golden Dome–  efforts which will benefit our citizens now and in the future.  It is important to applaud this success, and make note of how our public servants can continue this pattern for the good of our state.

One great example of bipartisanship at work:  Georgia lawmakers passed a bill without one single dissenting vote this session making solar power cheaper and easier for Georgia homeowners by offering previously unavailable financing options.  The Solar Power Free Market Financing Act helps preserve our State’s natural resources and can potentially bring a family’s energy cost to zero.  This is a bill that was years in the making and had failed during prior sessions, but proponents were intent on not seeing it fail again.  For months, both before the session and during the session, people were laying the groundwork for this bill’s success and it is reported more than 90 different groups were involved.  A bill that couldn’t pass before now enjoyed unanimous support.

What changed, you might inquire?  Let’s take a look at another important initiative to confirm the answer.

As an attorney, a former prosecutor and a member of the Board of Governors and the Executive Committee for the State Bar of Georgia, I have closely watched the development of the Criminal Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives.  For the past three sessions, lawmakers have aligned themselves to develop and pass the different components of these acts which I believe strengthens both the adult and juvenile justice systems.  Our state, with one of the highest incarceration rates and most expensive systems in the country, with more than $1 billion dollars spent annually, was in dire need of an overhaul.  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showed leadership on this issue, they became educated on the problem and with careful planning and intense effort put forth by people from across Georgia and across political lines, these critical pieces of legislation passed.

Georgia is now smart on crime and focused on reentry programs designed to effectively assimilate inmates back into the state and not to simply kick them out the door and hope they don’t come back.  It also makes sure that non-violent offenders, whose time behind bars doesn’t serve justice, are not needlessly incarcerated leaving beds open for violent criminals thereby making Georgia a safer place.

Like the solar power bill, the Criminal Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives were examples of consensus building done the right way.  I want to see more of it and I am not alone.  Consensus building means starting early, hearing from all sides, and not trying to force one view– even if it is ultimately the right view in the end.  You need to have buy-in from as many perspectives and people as you can.   It will be an easier job for legislators to get bills passed when the hard work is done before the session and the stakeholders have been involved throughout the process.

Debates and discussions between opposing viewpoints, while they can certainly be frustrating, when approached with an open mind can very well produce an idea that hadn’t been considered.  The goal for our legislators should be to make a better Georgia.  And, they can do this by making better bills, using conscious consensus building principles.

Let’s make the word “bipartisanship” more than an urban legend.

Author Ken Hodges is a former Dougherty County district attorney and was the Democrat Party candidate for attorney general in 2010.


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