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Press officials, state legislators meet

State Senator John Bulloch, right, talks to other state legislators and press officials as part of a roundtable with the Georgia Press Association at The Albany Herald’s offices Thursday.

State Senator John Bulloch, right, talks to other state legislators and press officials as part of a roundtable with the Georgia Press Association at The Albany Herald’s offices Thursday.

ALBANY, Ga. — State legislators from Southwest Georgia and representatives of the Georgia Press Association met in Albany Thursday in an effort to build a working relationship between elected officials and journalists before the start of the next legislative session.

The nearly two-hour meeting was hosted by the GPA — an organization comprising newspapers and journalists from across the state that advocates and lobbies for open, transparent government — at The Albany Herald offices on North Washington Street and was part of a series of roundtable discussions the organization is having across the state with lawmakers.

“We’re holding these roundtables and inviting legislators to build the rapport between local journalists, editors and publishers and lawmakers so that our readers are able to get best and most accurate information,” GPA President Len Robbins said.

Although the relationship between the news media and lawmakers has often been, as Robbins put it, “antagonistic,” Thursday’s meeting saw a candid discussion among the nearly dozen area lawmakers who chose to participate and the media representatives present.

Legislation from the pending

T-SPLOST initiative to bills increasing government openness and transparency were discussed, but it again was the looming spectre of balancing a state budget that most in the room said would be the biggest single issue of the next session.

“Revenues may be up a little bit, but we’re still a long way from where we were back in 2005,” State Sen. John Bulloch, R-Thomasville, said. “The general feeling is that there are some cuts that we don’t ever want to return. ... We will operate with a smaller government, and once we get our obligations met, employees taken care of and our rainy-day fund filled, we need to give the people’s money back to them.”

Legislators will likely also tackle the perennial favorites — tax reform and water conservation — as the agenda takes shape for the 2012 session. And the General Assembly will likely poke and prod Hank Huckaby, the new chancellor for the University System of Georgia, in what could be another budgetary showdown between legislators and the state Board of Regents.