Ralston taps new leaders for 13 Georgia House committees

ATLANTA (AP) — Some of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston's top lieutenants got new posts as the Republican announced new chairs for committees on Wednesday.

GOP Rep. Shaw Blackmon of Bonaire will lead the Ways and Means Committee after former chair Brett Harrell lost his reelection bid to a Democrat. Ralston named Rep. Barry Fleming, a Harlem Republican, to lead a new special committee reviewing election laws. Fleming vacates the judiciary panel, making way for Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Dacula Republican, to lead that panel.

Overall, 13 of 41 committees got new leaders. Many top leaders including Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, an Auburn Republican, are returning. About 60% of House committee chairs live outside metro Atlanta.

Other key changes include:

— Rep Matt Dubnik, a Gainesville Republican, takes over the Education Committee.

— Rep. Rick Jasperse, a Jasper Republican who had led the Education Committee, will now lead the Transportation Committee.

— Rep. Darlene Taylor, a Thomasville Republican, takes over the Governmental Affairs Committee from Blackmon.

— Rep. Robert Dickey, a Musella Republican, takes over the Agriculture Committee after former chair Tom McCall retired.

Three returning committee chairs lost their posts. Rep. Bill Hitchens, a Rincon Republican, shifted from chairing the Public Safety & Homeland Security to overseeing budgeting for those subjects as an appropriations subcommittee chair. Rep. Tommy Benton, a Commerce Republican, lost his Retirement Committee post after he made remarks to radio hosts demeaning the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Rep. Wes Cantrell, a Woodstock Republican, had been chair of Small Business Development but will not be leading any committee during this two-year term.

Only one Democrat will head a committee. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur will lead the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee, a House-Senate joint panel which oversees the transit system's budget but doesn't handle legislation.

Announcing committee assignments clears the way for lawmakers to begin heavier work. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced Senate committee posts last week in a move that demoted some Republicans who have both been opponents of the chamber's Republican leaders and have been prominent supporters of false claims that Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won Georgia's 16 electoral votes in the presidential election.

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