ATLANTA -- During a heated argument on the Senate floor, Sen. Renee Unterman told her colleagues there was one clear message.
"We're ready to work," the Buford Republican said of the unexpected fire on the first day of the 2012 session, a day normally devoted to ceremonial matter.
While House members closed after a quick stint setting up the 2012 sessions first weeks, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate squared off in a debate over whether school boards could have a policy to lay off the last person hired despite performance.
"This is serious. This is a major education policy change on the first day," said Steve Thompson, D-Marietta. "Be careful."
Because 2012 makes the second year in the legislature's biennual session, lawmakers could take up bills that had not been acted upon in the past year. The controversial bill had passed the Senate last year but officials were considering whether to agree to a House version.
"We need to send a message to the state of Georgia that we are going to take up the most important issue on Day 1, and that is our abysmal education system," said Sen. Chip Rogers, the Senate majority leader, adding that the bill had been debated last year.
Later in the day, leaders began work on the No. 1 priority for many this year -- jobs.
A joint committee of the House and Senate economic development committees convened to talk about the Georgia Lottery.
"I'm for us working on jobs, economic development," said Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, a member of the House committee. "That's on everybody's minds."
After more than an hour, the measure prohibiting a policy to layoff people based on hire date passed by a vote of 38-15.
Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash stopped by the Capitol to watch the proceedings.
"I'm getting the feel for the pulse of the session," Nash said, adding that her hope for the body is to "Do no harm. That's the mantra I hear from a lot of folks. A lot of folks are concerned about what the unintended consequences might be."