May 10, 2019, Camilla, Ga. -- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the 2020 budget Friday morning. Later in the day, he vetoed legislation that would have mandated school recess.

They tried, but Georgia’s kids couldn’t catch a break

When the Georgia General Assembly approved a recess bill this year, children across the state rejoiced.

But on Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp ended the party by vetoing House Bill 83. It had passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but Kemp said it was too burdensome for schools.

Children have been lobbying for years to get one version or another of the legislation through.

Lily NordbyWills was in fourth grade when she testified at a hearing two years ago. She was, by now, too old to reap the benefits, but she wanted recess for younger kids because she remembers what it was like when her class didn’t get it.

“I don’t think they quite understand what kids need because a lot of kids are fidgety and rambunctious and recess kind of tampers them down,” said Lily, 12, after learning of Kemp’s veto. “It’s just disappointing.”

The legislation would have required most schools with kindergarten through fifth grade classes to schedule recess daily. It encouraged a duration averaging half an hour a day, and called on school boards to write policies ensuring that recess “is scheduled so that it provides a break” and isn’t withheld “for disciplinary or academic reasons.”

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, a former Georgia Bulldogs football player who went pro, had been pushing the legislation for several years, saying obesity is a problem recess could address.

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, carried Douglas’ bill in the Senate, where he riffed on the fitness theme. While presenting the bill to his colleagues, he pointed at his belly. This is not recess, he joked, then pointed to a trim, young senator in the chamber. That is recess, he said, as the chamber erupted in laughter.

It passed the Senate 48-4 after having passed the House 160-11.

Some, though, said they were worried about tying the hands of schools with limited time to meet academic goals.

Kemp, in his veto statement, echoed the concern. He said he supports expanded recess for students but that he is a “firm believer in local control, especially in education.” He said it would have imposed “unreasonable burdens” on school leaders “without meaningful justification.”

Lily, who is wrapping up sixth grade, at least got something out of her efforts. Her testimony was part of a Girl Scout project that earned a bronze medal. She and her troop first discussed planting trees on their sunny Paulding County school playground, but then the discussion turned to how infrequently they got to use it.

She also learned a real-world lesson about civics. She “kind of” expected a veto “because it’s kind of hard to get bills passed,” she said.

“Not all of them can get through.”

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