Writer: Roger Nielsen

Members of the Georgia General Assembly convened in Athens Dec. 7­–9 for the 29th Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, coordinated by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to help lawmakers prepare for the next legislative cycle.

More than 200 members of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate attended presentations at UGA’s Georgia Center for Continuing Education covering economic development and other significant issues. The three-day event culminated with an address by Gov. Nathan Deal, who outlined his policy priorities for the coming year.

Since its inception in 1958, the Biennial Institute has been coordinated by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and continues to be an anticipated event on the Georgia political calendar.

As in past years, the 2014 Biennial offered the first opportunity following the elections for veteran and freshman legislators to come together as a group in advance of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.

In his first opportunity to address the newly elected and incumbent legislators, Deal brought the Biennial to a close Tuesday with a speech describing how cooperation between the state’s executive and legislative branches helped produce Georgia’s current economic vitality. He also detailed Georgia’s successes regarding criminal justice reform and outlined some specific policy initiatives he hoped the legislature would undertake during the 2015 session.

Deal concluded by describing how Georgia has established an international reputation as the best U.S. state to locate new business and industry. “That is the reputation that precedes us, and that is the reputation I intend to build upon for the next four years,” he said.

The Biennial officially came to order the afternoon of Dec. 7 with welcoming remarks from Speaker of the House David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, UGA President Jere Morehead and Institute of Government Director Laura Meadows. Christopher W. Klaus, founder and CEO of Kaneva, an Atlanta company that integrates social networking, shared media and collaborative online communities into an immersive 3D world, delivered the keynote address regarding Georgia’s digital innovations.

Over the subsequent two days, the Biennial sessions explored a diverse set of state priorities, including economic development and job creation, opportunities for growth in Georgia and abroad, and the roles education, transportation and health care play in Georgia’s economic vitality. Legislators attended a number of informative policy sessions featuring panels of state agency executives, legislative committee chairs and experts from universities, nonprofits and businesses. Additional speakers included University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby, UGA political science professor Charles Bullock and Todd Henry, operations manager of Caterpillar Inc.

Almost all of the state’s 56 senators and 180 representatives attended the Biennial Institute, including nearly two dozen who will begin serving their first terms in the legislature in January. The Biennial offered these freshmen legislators the chance to network with their new colleagues and learn more about key matters they will face as they begin to represent their constituents in Atlanta.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a UGA public service and outreach unit, has coordinated the Biennial for 56 years, working with the Georgia General Assembly to organize and assemble the resources and expertise needed to carry out the planned events. The Institute provides customized assistance, applied research and professional development for government leaders and employees across Georgia and internationally.

The Biennial has always been held at UGA’s Georgia Center for Continuing Education, also a UGA public service and outreach unit.