Greeted by pro-Palestinian protests and demonstrations against Georgia’s voting system, lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday almost as if they had never left.

The typical “back-to-school” vibes at the start of the annual legislative session made way for comments such as “I feel like we were just here” — and they were. Lawmakers redrew Georgia’s political districts in response to a court order just last month, and now they’re back again.

They’re bracing for combative election-year debates on a wide variety of issues: school vouchers, Medicaid expansion, antisemitism, tax cuts, crime and voting laws.

“We’re going to have a very busy session this year,” said state Rep. Rey Martinez, a Republican from Loganville. “It seems like we were here two weeks ago with the redistricting, but we’re back again and we’re going to have a great impact session this year.”

Lawmakers took time Monday to address the rash of recent “swatting” hoaxes that brought police to the homes of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a handful of state senators, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. And last week, a state employee received an email threat that resulted in a short evacuation while the Capitol was searched.

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Senate Public Safety Chairman John Albers, a Roswell Republican, called the hoax phone calls “foolish and dangerous.” Senators plan to introduce a bill making “swatting” a felony.

“This literally could have cost someone their life. And for those who think this is a prank, it is a crime,” said Albers, whose home was one of those that was “swatted.”

Lobbyists who typically leave their bags and coats on tables in Capitol hallways were told the practice was no longer allowed. There was an increased police presence seen in and around the Gold Dome. Gates surrounding the Capitol steps were closed, forcing the public to a main entrance.

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Outside the Capitol, protesters from either end of the political spectrum chanted slogans and lectured lawmakers.

A group of about 20 pro-Palestinian activists, led by the far-left Party for Socialism and Liberation, urged for an end to Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip and harangued President Joe Biden for not calling for a cease-fire.

“We have no freedom of speech,” one speaker loudly complained through a bullhorn. “Biden is not my president. You are a war criminal.”

Meanwhile, across Capitol Avenue in Liberty Plaza, about 75 right-wing activists braced themselves against a steady, cold wind to restate conspiracy claims about the 2020 presidential election and demand Georgia conduct its elections via paper ballot rather than touchscreen voting.

“Our votes have been stolen. Our elections have been stolen. It’s theft by deception,” said Bob Coovert, an officer with the Mountain Patriots, a Fannin County-based group that trafficks in conspiracy theories.

Coovert said multiple recounts and audits of the election, in which Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump by about 12,000 votes, were bogus.

During silent moments in the Senate chamber, activists could be heard chanting “paper ballots now” outside the building.

It’s the second session of a two-year legislative term, meaning leadership roles have already been filled and committees have already been assigned, letting lawmakers focus on the hundreds of bills and resolutions that didn’t pass last year.

“It’s going to be fast and furious,” said Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Several new bills had already been introduced by Monday afternoon, including a revised proposal to sanction prosecutors after the Georgia Supreme Court effectively put the law on hold and a measure to create a new city of Mulberry in northeastern Gwinnett County.

Monday was the first of 40 working legislative days, where lawmakers will pass the state budget, the only law they are legally required to pass each year, and scores of other measures.

It’s unclear when the legislative session will end, but lawmakers prefer ending the General Assembly’s session before the week of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta. This year, the Masters begins April 8.

Staff writer Chris Joyner contributed to this article.