ATLANTA -- As the Georgia General Assembly prepares to tackle the two most pressing issues it will face during the 2011 session -- the state budget and redistricting -- Southwest Georgia legislators will be in the thick of the fray.
District 152 Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, was named Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government on Friday, while District 12 Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, was selected to serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Rynders also was selected, along with District 174 Rep. Ellis Black -- a former Democrat from Valdosta who switched party affiliation before the session -- to serve on the 22-member House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, which will be in charge of the tedious redistricting process.
"I very much appreciate the Speaker (David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge) and the Committee on Assignments selecting me to be a part of these committees, which are very important to Southwest Georgia," Rynders said Friday after getting a call from Ralston. "I'm very excited.
"Serving as one of eight vice chairs of the Appropriations Committee is an awesome responsibility. We'll work hard to make sure every agency spends money as responsibly as possible. I'm thankful for the confidence the Speaker has shown in me as a representative of Southwest Georgia and rural Georgia."
Sims said her ability to avoid "distractions" and focus on the job at hand while working without concern for party affiliation was crucial to her selection in the Republican-controlled Senate.
"There's no other way to survive in politics," she said Friday. "It's more important than ever that (the Legislature) work together. And for me, I remain focused on the needs of my district. That always comes first.
"I think it's very important to our region that we have a seat at the table when appropriations are made. We need a voice. I'm proud to be that voice, and even though I'm a little person, I plan to have a big voice. I plan to be heard."
As one of eight vice chairs serving under newly appointed Appropriations Chair Terry England (R-Auburn), Rynders will chair the subcommittee that deals with General Government. That particular subcommittee considers budget requests from the legislative branch, the department of audits, banking and finance, driver services, the office of the governor, the insurance commissioner's office, natural resources, the department of revenue, the secretary of state's office, the accounting office, the properties commission and worker's compensation.
The House's eight Appropriations subcommittees include Education, Economic Development, General Government, Health, Human Resources, Higher Education, Public Safety and Zero-Based Budgeting.
Jay Powell, R-Camilla, is chair of the Public Safety Subcommittee, while Penny Houston, R-Nashville, is chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee.
"Not only is Southwest Georgia well-represented with three of the Appropriations Committee's eight vice chairs, all of us share parts of a county (Colquitt)," Rynders said. "We have a very strong working relationship and a number of common concerns."
The Legislature will not be in session next week, but Appropriations Committee members in both houses will begin hearings Tuesday after Monday's Martin Luther King holiday. Rynders said he expects the Reapportionment Committee to head a special session in the summer.
"We'll hold a special session for the purpose of drawing up House, Senate and Congressional districts," he said. "Of course, redistricting will have to be approved by the (federal) Justice Department."