Regina Quick, a family law attorney with a practice in downtown Athens, recently finished her inaugural legislative session as the Republican representative for parts of Athens-Clarke, Oconee, Barrow and Jackson counties. She recently shared insight into her time under the Gold Dome and hopes for the local delegation continuing to work together in future sessions.
How would you sum up your first legislative session?
It was very educational, if I had to sum it up in one word. But rewarding in that we were able to accomplish some things for Athens and work together as a local delegation to get some legislation passed that I think will help Athens over the long run.
What was the biggest surprise to you about the process?
Learning the committee process was the biggest surprise, just in terms of how difficult it can be, depending on the legislation and depending on the timing of the legislation, to work through the committee process and actually get a hearing and a vote on your bill. And, of course, the rules committee process after that is a whole different thing
You had 13 bills and resolutions that you attached your name to in some respect. Being a freshman lawmaker, did you expect to sponsor so much legislation?
Let me explain first how these resolutions work. A lot of those realizations are privileged, recognition resolutions or invitation resolutions, such as inviting (University of Georgia) President (Michael) Adams to the House. So those don’t really require a lot of substantive work other than honoring your constituents or person who has a connection to your district. So since I represent four different counties, I had a lot of opportunities to affix my name to those resolutions. In terms of actual legislation in this session, we had one thing come up as far as the local delegation was concerned right out of the chute, and that was that both our probate judge and our magistrate judge asked that the local delegation make their positions for future elections nonpartisan. So, since I’m the lawyer in the House, and typically that is where local legislation has started, historically speaking, I was able to sponsor that legislation and those were my first two bills where I was the first signer or primary sponsor of that legislation even though technically that was local legislation. And Gov. Deal signed those bills April 24.
So he was able to get to those pretty quick in the process.
I think so. Pretty noncontroversial. So that was work. But it was work in a way that allowed me to learn the process early on in the process, early on in the session. I was thankful to (Watkinsville Rep.) Chuck Williams, who suggested that
I sign off as the first signer since it was law related and judge related and maybe I had a better understanding of the judicial cannons and those type of thing as to why it was a good-government type idea. So I was able to carry that through the committee process, through the rules process, and then presenting them from the well of the House. So since it was two bills, two positions, I got to do that twice sort of through the same session.
Through the session, what would you say your biggest accomplishment was?
From a professional standpoint, I am a family lawyer, that is what I do. So I was very honored to be involved with part of the State Bar of Georgia’s legislative package, which involved updating the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. So my biggest accomplishment was actually being involved in that process and seeing it to fruition. … That legislation passed unanimously in both chambers, without a single no vote. So (Athens Sen.) Bill Cowsert assisted in that process and actually the Senate version of that bill is the one that ended up passing, Senate Bill 193.
You also sat on the committee doing juvenile justice reform as well, correct?
Well, it was the Juvenile Justice Committee, but because that’s a new committee and that being (House Judiciary Committee) Chairman Wendell Willard’s bill, that bill itself, the juvenile justice reform bill, went back to the Judiciary Committee. So that bill did not come through my committee. Now, there were two or three additions to the bill on the Senate side that came from our committee. And not to get too far down in the weeds, because you were reforming and updating all sorts of pieces of Title 15 of the juvenile code and Title 19, which is the domestic relations code, there was a fear that some of the things coming out of the juvenile justice committee might not be meshed properly with the legislation itself since it was large, a very large bill. So they took two or three, four things that came out of our committee and when it was over on the senate side, Chairman Willard just slid those into where they went in the legislation. Other than those exceptions, it did not come through the Juvenile Justice Committee.
Did you have any disappointments in this session or anything that you really hoped to accomplish that just didn’t come to fruition?
I don’t think so. I think I probably had very realistic expectations about what a freshman could accomplish and what might happen there. So I was very pleasantly surprised at how smoothly things went and how much we were able to accomplish as a local delegation together working together. And as I say, the state bars’ agenda with family law matters, I was happy to be involved in that and I look forward to that in 2014. On a personal level, being named to the 2013 Georgia Legislative Leadership Institute Program that will be ongoing after the session was a big honor. So, I was pleasantly surprised.
Was there anything about the legislative process that you think would be particularly surprising to your constituents?
People might be surprised at how very little discussion there is on the floor of the House about a piece of legislation. Most of the work, the research, the discussion, goes on before a bill ever gets to the floor. So it’s not like you see on television where there’s a vicious debate and the log of amendments, especially on the House side … a lot of things come out of the rules committee in what is called modified structure, which means no amendments are allowed on the floor of the House, which means you either have to vote yes or no to whatever is there. And there is only discussion, yes or no, from the well of the House. Now there’s some exceptions to that and some things do allow amendments, but most of the discussion goes on outside of the actual floor debate before the actual floor vote on a bill.
Going into the next session, what is your biggest goal?
Well, just like the grocery store bill came up sort of at the last minute, right before Cross Over Day, I don’t know what will come up. So my goal is to make sure that the local delegation continues to be responsive to the needs of Athens, and that we can work together as we did this session to accomplish things that spell jobs and economic development for Athens-Clarke County. And past that, I have no legislative agenda.
How was it transitioning back to your day-to-day life after working for 40 days in Atlanta?
Well, the work itself in Atlanta was somewhat different, but comparable to what I do, that is the time intensive work I have as a practicing attorney. So my days didn’t look that much different. What I’m doing over there is very different from sort of being in control of someone’s litigation and how it proceeds forward and having some hands-on in outcomes. I do think one person can still be important and can influence a legislative process in Atlanta, but it is a very different process from what I do day-to-day. So it was nice to be back and start reviewing files again and reviewing the law that may have come down from the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals while I was otherwise occupied. My clients, I know, are happy to have me back and fully focused because that was something I could not do very easily while I was there. We were going five days a week a lot of the time, so there wasn’t much time to come back and see clients, at least not during regular business hours, to get something done. I did a lot of work during weekends. But I’m glad to be back, glad to be back in the district. Not looking forward to necessarily campaigning again, but looking forward to everyone giving me either a passing or failing grade as to what I was able to accomplish and how I was able to keep my campaign promises. So we’ll see how it goes. I have three jury trials in June, so I’ll let you know in July how I like being back.
Spencer Frye, executive director of the Athens Habitat for Humanity, recently finished his first legislative session as the Democratic representative for Athens. He recently shared why he thinks this is the best government in the world, that his biggest goal for 2014 is defeating the so-called campus carry bill that would allow firearms on college campuses and his plans for making newly built sustainable homes more lucrative.
How would you sum up your first legislative session?
I had a great time. I learned a lot and I feel inspired by the amount of opportunity that there is to do some great things for Athens and the state of Georgia.
What would you say your biggest surprise was going through the session and seeing it play out first hand?
There weren’t a whole lot of surprises for me because I’ve studied the Legislature for several years now and tried to become a student of the process. Certainly learning exactly how the bills can come in and out of committee and some of the procedural items, some of the details; it’s kind of like building a house. You can read about it in a book, but until you actually get out there and do it, you don’t really know. So that was a little bit of a surprise. The hours it took, the time it took was not much of a surprise because you realize you’re doing a lot of work within 40 days.
So just learning the system itself was something I was able to pick up. Still don’t know it. There’s legislators up there that say they learn something every session. I think it’s a great process, I think it’s a great form of government that we have. A good bill would have to essentially be touched seven times before it becomes a law. And when you add the House side and the Senate side and the governor’s side all coming together, just an easy simple good bill needs to go through seven things before it is a law.
It seems like an arduous process, but I think the up side to that is that it really gives a lot of opportunity to make sure the bill is the right thing to make a law. Because making a law is extremely serious. And learning about that was just an incredible experience.
You attached your name to 18 different pieces of either resolutions or bills. Did you expect to put your fingers on that many pieces of legislation?
You come in with a specific agenda of things you want to address. I didn’t have a number in my head of bills that I wanted to cosponsor. And actually, there’s a few more than that. It’s just the first six names that get listed on the legislative record. I also signed onto the downtown revitalization act, which will provide a tax credit for the revitalization of certain downtown areas, which I think this is extremely important to our community as we see our downtown grow. I know there are projects already out of the ground here, but a tax credit will also incentivize businesses to come in and revitalizes some of the buildings downtown that might need a little help. It’s a way to spur investment in the actual structure and generate the economy and save the buildings and revitalize downtown areas.
We already have a vital downtown, but 20 years ago it wasn’t exactly like this. When I came here in 1986, there was hardly anything downtown. When the mall moved into Athens, we could have sued that act to try to revitalize our downtown. It seems like with the music and the arts, it kind of naturally has been self revitalizing and I think an interest into the downtown area with some of the clubs, like the 40 Watt, and then some of the bands coming from Athens really drew people into that specific area. But that’s an act that I did so I really wanted to support that.
And through the legislative session, you create relationships and different folks will come in and ask you for support as well. I was honored to be asked by both parties, members of both parties, to sign on to pieces of legislation. Obviously, mostly Democrats, but there was some good legislation that I’ve tried to cosponsor.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment this session?
I think the one everyone is talking about will be the downtown grocery bill. That was a great opportunity to figure out the system and it was a wonderful experience to have something that was so significant to my community, our community, but also had significance to other communities. Macon, that will be a big opportunity for Macon. Atlanta, that will be a big opportunity for Atlanta even, with the Georgia Tech campus. But keeping in mind, not wanting to pass a state law that just made a mandate for everybody to act the same way because different communities react to different things differently. So putting in that local control element was a way for us to allow if, say, Athens wanted this to happen, they have a way to make it happen and if Macon didn’t want this to happen they didn’t have to make it happen.
But it had great bipartisan support. I think that was the largest bill that I passed. I think the greatest accomplishment was really learning the system and being able to serve this community and represent. To me, I’m just honored. That’s a great deal of responsibility that I don’t take lightly. And that’s what I do consider the greatest thing about this, that there are people in this district and across this city that I represent and I really appreciate that.
What was the most disappointing part of the session?
The most disappointing part, literally, was when it was over for me. I really decided that I enjoyed it so much and it really is this tremendous opportunity to do great things for this state. We have the world’s busiest airport in this state and everyone’s talking about the deepening of the Savannah port, and our education systems are pulling themselves up a little bit here and there. We have a world class university here in Athens. And we have a great university system and we have some great private schools, private colleges here. And I think all of that sets itself up for Georgia to lead the Southeast, as I believe it already does, but there are a lot of (things) we could do better.
But I was thinking, golly, what am I going to do for excitement now that this is over? I’m going to have to take up hang gliding or something to tide me over until January. It is exciting to have that opportunity to come up with good ideas that will benefit everybody.
I’m working on a piece for next session that hopefully will be able to incentivize sustainable construction across the state. And I think that’s a huge component for our construction industry. And the construction industry has so far reacted positively to that idea and I think everybody is realizing that sustainable construction is the future. We’re not going to go back to nonsustainable construction. Our home builders are the folks who drive our economy. Whether we like it or not, that’s what the news checks every week is housing starts, and your housing stock. And we saw what a difference it made when we were in this past recession, when the housing industry caved in. Since housing starts are coming back up, it’s a great opportunity to try to get folks to build sustainably and make things more energy efficient. And again, it’s all about when a homeowner doesn’t have to pay a high electric bill, they have more money in their pocket to spend on their family and spend in their community. And that’s the way we need to view this stuff. That’s what I’ll be working on hopefully over the summer and introduce that bill sometime in the fall or in January.
Is that your biggest goal for next session, getting that bill passed?
I would have to say my biggest goal for next session would be to hopefully be a part of stopping the campus carry bill. I think we need to pay attention to the fact that … our law enforcement officers should be the ones that dictate a firearms policy, because they are the ones getting shot at. And we should support those guys; the experts. And hopefully we can prevent that from going through. It’s not about Second Amendment rights. It’s about the safety of our campuses. So personally, that will be a goal. Investing in our educations, without eviscerating our school budgets, is extremely important to me. Hopefully we have seen the death of certain bills that would take more money out of our school systems. … Those are very important.
That’s not really offense, it’s more defense. But I still feel like it’s still important to address creating opportunities for people to make money. And if we can do that, the rest of these things will be OK. Obviously if we have more revenue we can invest more money in our education. And some people say we already spend 57, 58 percent on our education. But to them I say just because we spend it doesn’t mean it’s the right amount. The fact that you spend it is great. But it doesn’t mean that is what’s necessary. Focusing on smaller classroom sizes and earlier childhood education are the two definite, scientifically proven things that affect education. I think it is extremely important to pay attention to the science behind it. And if the science says that, we should go for that. Hopefully what everyone in the state is seeing is that our education is directly tied to our economy. And you can’t have one without having the other. And if you have one, chances are you’re going to have the other. They’re linked together. They are not two separate silos. And hopefully attention is being paid to where they are linked together. And you’re hearing that more and more the past year from both sides of the aisle and I’m excited to hear that. I’ve been saying that forever.
How was it transitioning back to your day-to-day after working 40 days in Atlanta?
We hit the ground running here. I’ve been coordinating events for Habitat while I was in session. Had a huge event with the My Athens Art gallery set up. And the Monday I came back to Athens we set up for that opening for that Friday. And as soon as that was over, we had been working on habitat being the benefactor of the Twilight, so we’ve been in full-blown Twilight mode. So I really haven’t had time to catch my breath and it’s been great because I haven’t had to go hang gliding to find excitement.