Lawmakers elect Georgia House Speaker Burns on quick first day

Burns takes the gavel after Ralston died in November
Rep. Patty Bentley hugs Jon Burns as he walks into the Georgia House following his election as House speaker on Monday, the first day of the legislative session at the Georgia Capitol. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Rep. Patty Bentley hugs Jon Burns as he walks into the Georgia House following his election as House speaker on Monday, the first day of the legislative session at the Georgia Capitol. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Georgia lawmakers elected a new speaker of the House and a leader of the Senate on the first day of the state’s annual legislative session Monday — without the kind of fights recently seen in Washington.

Republican state Rep. Jon Burns took office as Georgia’s 75th speaker of the House without a single dissenting vote from either his own party or Democrats, a contrast with the 15 rounds of voting before the election last week of Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Across the hall at the Georgia Capitol, the state Senate chose Republican Sen. John F. Kennedy as its president pro tem, the second-highest-ranking leader in the chamber behind incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

Calls for harmony and bipartisanship marked the start of the 2023 legislative session as state representatives and senators were sworn into office and began their work.



With no bills to consider or issues to debate, elected officials were left to celebrate a new era and finish work within a couple of hours, leaving plenty of time before the University of Georgia competed in the national college football championship.

“Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a new or returning member, I will work to serve each of you and our House to the very best of my ability,” said Burns, a Republican from Newington. “My vision for this House is straightforward. This House will continue to lead. It will continue to be independent while working with our colleagues in the Senate.”

In a sign of early cooperation, the House and Senate agreed on a schedule for the entire legislative session for the first time in recent memory, avoiding prolonged debates over preferred days off.

Both chambers voted for this year’s 40 days of business to conclude March 29, in time for legislators to attend the Masters golf tournament in Augusta and giving them days off almost every Friday.

Several representatives spoke about former House Speaker David Ralston, a powerful leader and avid Georgia football fan, who died in November after leading the chamber for nearly 13 years. Republicans in the House nominated Burns in November, defeating a challenge from state Rep. Barry Fleming, a Republican from Harlem.

Ralston’s passing “left a hole in the heart of this House,” Burns said.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

The General Assembly welcomed 53 new legislators on Monday after last year’s elections, accounting for more than one-fifth of all senators and representatives at the Capitol.

Republicans hold majorities in both chambers after winning 101 of 180 state House seats and 33 of 56 state Senate seats in November’s elections.

“There’s a lot of excitement, and we’re hoping we can get a lot of work done,” said state Rep. Soo Hong, a first-term Republican from Lawrenceville.

The harmony ended in the Senate when all the Democratic senators voted against rule changes in the chamber. Though Republicans hold the majority, three GOP senators were absent today, causing them to fall one vote short of the 29 needed to pass.

Democrats objected to a proposed rule that aims to explicitly shield senators from sharing information about any work they do — such as testifying before a grand jury — citing “legislative privilege” for members’ speech and conduct. The Senate is expected to revisit the proposed rules later this week, likely when more Republicans are in the chamber.

While many legislators wore red and black to show their support for Georgia’s football team, without Ralston at the helm of the House, fanfare was relatively muted compared with previous years.

A video promoting the football team was displayed on screens in the House only after the chamber adjourned for the day. Last year, the legislative session began with a highlight reel and ended with lawmakers shouting, “Go Dawgs.”

The Senate saw even less fanfare, other than a few mentions of Monday night’s game.



State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, a former Georgia linebacker, said the team’s success will build on the state’s reputation and support economic development.

“There’s no separation when the Dawgs play. You can be a D, R or independent, it doesn’t matter. Everybody is with everybody,” said Douglas, a Democrat from Stockbridge. “If we can bring that into the state House, I think we have a better chance of doing some great things for our state.”

But with several lawmakers attending the championship in Los Angeles, and many more expected to watch the game from home until late, the General Assembly agreed not to meet again at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Up next, legislative leaders will begin assigning committee leaders and office locations for new members.

Later this month, lawmakers will begin reviewing the state’s $33 billion annual budget, and dozens of bills are expected to be introduced.

Some of the most closely watched issues this legislative session include proposals that could result in tax refunds, legalized sports gambling, changes to education funding and elimination of runoff elections.

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