New Project To Assist Officials

Staff

Vol. 3, No. 1, 1980, p. 5

State legislators in Alabama and Georgia are often frustrated by the lack of support services. House members in the two states have only their desks on the chamber floors as offices. The combined salary and expense allotments are so low that hiring research staff is prohibitive and indeed many legislators serve at a considerable financial and business sacrifice. These circumstances prove so frustrating that the Speaker of Georgia's House has publicly lamented that qualified young Georgians simply can't afford to stay in the legislature.

This is the frustration that generated the Southern Regional Council's new project, the Southern Legislative Research Council. It will provide research, analysis and general staff to twenty-five to thirty legislators in Alabama and in Georgia. The goal is to provide the help that is otherwise not provided and thus to show the great potential for more effective legislators when they have individual staff. Lawmakers served will be those who are most directly concerned with the needs of Black and poor Georgians and Alabamians.

Former Georgia state legislator, Clint Deveaux directs the project. The staff includes Virginia Montes, research coordinator; Andrew Hall, research analyst and Vicki German, secretary. Interns, four in each state, will assist the staff during the legislative sessions. A panel of experts and resource people knowledgeable in priority areas will be available to provide information, legislative drafting assistance and testimony before legislative committees. The project will also distribute a newsletter as often as twice weekly to keep its legislative "clients" and others up to date on legislation.

Project "clients" have been chosen based on a combination of factors including: the percentage of Blacks and poor in the districts, the member's legislative record or verifiable reputation on issues generally regarded as important for Blacks and the poor in their states, the evaluation of lawmakers by reliable local activists in the legislative process and the member's positions of leadership on committees or in their chamber.

Each prospective client was surveyed to determine areas of priority concern. The survey results combined with interviews, conversations and meetings with lawmakers, officials and others have helped set priorities, reflected in this accompanying review.

By focusing on two or three areas of concern for thorough attention the project hopes to enlarge its impact. State budget plans begin with a surplus in Georgia and a shortfall in Alabama, but in both states poor and Black citizens are inadequately served and have seldom been the beneficiaries of the legislative process. The Southern Legislative Research Council does not presume to represent this oft ignored constituency. But the legislators served by the project will be better equipped to more forcefully and more successfully press this constituency's interests with the project's assistance.