ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Monday to resume the 2020 legislative session after a three-month-long hiatus.
Legislators suspended the session in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have to come back and do the people's work," said State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell. "Certainly, there are precautions in place. We're all wearing masks. We are social distancing. We are being very safe, but we've got to get the work done for the people."
The Senate looked eerily empty as senators rotated in and out of the chamber to keep the number of people in the room down.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers sat at every other desk, while those displaced were reassigned to an overflow room or to chairs in the gallery overlooking the House floor.
Masks are strongly encouraged in the Senate, but not required. Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate, did not wear one Monday.
In the House, however, masks are now part of the required dress code.
"I know some people aren't happy with that and you're looking at one up here that's not real happy with that, frankly," House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. told members Monday. "But you know what? It's not just for me. It's for others and so those of you that are having some concerns about that, let me ask you not to be selfish, but to think about your neighbor. Think about your neighbor and wear the mask."
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, said she was pleased with many of the precautions taken. She said most people in the Capitol wore masks, but she would like to see that extend to other nearby buildings.
"I am a little concerned about some of the people who aren't wearing masks," said Hutchinson. "I know that it's mandatory in some areas, but not others like [the Coverdell Legislative Office Building] and that worries me because the threat hasn't left us. And if everybody doesn't take precautions then this is a full building and more people are going to get sick."
Lawmakers have 10 days left in the session and must by law pass a balanced budget before they adjourn. Speaker Ralston and others have also been vocal about their desire to give final approval to a hate crimes bill, especially in light of the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.