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Gwinnett freshman Everson starts new duties

camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com

ATLANTA - Gwinnett's newest representative was welcomed into the General Assembly with a standing ovation Monday morning.

Snellville's Melvin Everson is the first black Republican under the Gold Dome to have won a contested election.

On Monday, Everson spent time shaking hands, meeting colleagues and sitting in on a committee meeting.

Today, though, he plans to vote at his first committee session and introduce his first bill.

Everson plans to sponsor legislation to deny taxpayer-funded service to illegal immigrants.

The measure was a campaign promise during his race last fall to replace Phyllis Miller for the House District 106 seat. She left the General Assembly for a juvenile court judgeship.

Everson beat the traffic Monday morning, arriving at the Capitol at 6:30 a.m.

"It's been exciting, fast-paced," Everson said before leaving for his first committee meeting. "It's everything I expected."

In his office, flowers from a constituent decorated his desk and a supporter-written poem and drawing hung on one wall.

Everson also had framed photos of himself with Gov. Sonny Perdue and President Bush sitting on his windowsill.

On his bookshelf rested a framed photo of his father in his World War II uniform. Opened on his desk was his mother's Bible, the one he used to be sworn in with just a few months ago.

"I'm still getting settled in," he said.

While Everson's only votes so far have been routine, he has already ruffled a few feathers under the Gold Dome.

He made history last fall when he became the only black Republican to win a contested election for state office, but he has decided to forego joining the Legislative Black Caucus.

The only other black Republican in the General Assembly, Willie Lee Talton of Warner Robins, also decided not to join the body, which is composed only of Democrats.

"Their views are completely different from my views,'' Everson said of the black caucus. "The only caucus I'm interested in being a member of is the Republican caucus.''

After Monday morning's floor session, Everson sat in the audience at a committee meeting. The House Governmental Affairs panel focused on a controversial voter bill that would require photo identification at the polls.

The law actually passed last year, with Everson's special election last summer becoming the first where photo IDs were required. But the law was suspended in October by a federal judge.

Everson said he supports the Republican initiative, which caused blacks to walk out of the Legislature during debates last year. There were no problems reported during the special election.

"If the country of Liberia can use it, why can't we?" Everson said.

Everson wasn't the only local lawmaker to put a bill in the hopper on Opening Day.

Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn, introduced a constitutional amendment aimed at protecting the state's hazardous waste and solid waste trust funds.

Perdue and legislative Republican leaders have dipped into both supposedly "dedicated'' sources of money during the last several years to help balance the state's general-fund budget, leaving many local cleanup projects unfunded or underfunded.

Thomas' measure would change Georgia's Constitution to forbid such raiding of the funds, which are generated through fees paid by businesses that generate waste.

"These funds have the support of the business community, the environmental community and local governments,'' Thomas said. "But the money has not always gone where it's supposed to.''

Thomas also Monday introduced a bill that would allow the state Board of Natural Resources to apply stricter air emissions standards now in effect in California to Georgia. Current state law ties Georgia's air standards to the more lenient federal requirements.

And Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, formally submitted his bill authorizing counties to display in public buildings documents pertaining to America's religious heritage, including the Ten Commandments.

The measure, which also requires the state attorney general's office to defend any lawsuits that might arise from such displays, was prefiled in the House in November.

Benton and one of the bill's cosponsors, Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, represent Barrow County in the House.