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December 12, 2006

Zell Miller, who served as Georgia senator, lieutenant governor and governor before going on to the U.S. Senate, will provide a historical perspective of the Georgia General Assembly as the featured speaker during the opening session of the Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, to be held Dec. 10-12 at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel. This will be the 25th gathering for the program, which was first held in 1958 and has been ranked by the National Conference of State Legislatures as the top university-based legislative training program in the country.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government plans and conducts the three-day agenda, which consists of basic training for newly elected legislators and policy panels for all participants. The Georgia General Assembly Training Institute cosponsors the event.

The Biennial Institute started at a time when there was a growing interest nationwide in improving state legislatures, according to Ed Jackson, Vinson Institute faculty member and long-time Biennial instructor.

“Bill Collins, who was the director of the Institute of Government and UGA’s first associate director of continuing education, proposed the creation of a program of orientation for new lawmakers and a setting for facilitated discussion of important state policy issues,” he said. (Distinguished retired law professor R. Perry Sentell Jr., who was then a third-year law student at UGA, wrote the first Handbook for Georgia Legislators, now in its 13th edition.)

Held one month after the general election, the Biennial sessions are conducted by Vinson Institute faculty, veteran lawmakers and staff, agency administrators and subject experts. New representatives and senators are instructed in everything from where to park, to the appropriations process, rules of procedure, ethics and how a bill becomes a law.

Policy programs for all lawmakers will cover some of the major issues that will face the 2007 General Assembly. Topics to be explored include education policy (with an address by Chancellor Erroll Davis), transportation, Medicaid, families and children, emergency preparedness, and the state’s energy crisis. The morning of Dec. 12 will be devoted exclusively to state health care concerns. This year’s Biennial Institute will conclude with an address by Gov. Sonny Perdue outlining his goals for the 2007 session.

“Today’s state lawmakers face increasingly complex issues and greater expectations from citizens,” said Steve Wrigley, Vinson Institute director. “The continuing value of the Biennial Institute can be attributed to the planners’ ability to recognize the changing dynamics of the legislature and respond with programming that meets their current policy information and training needs for making better informed decisions for Georgia.”