ATLANTA – Georgia House Speaker David Ralston ejected a Gwinnett County lawmaker from the House floor Tuesday for refusing to take a COVID-19 test.
Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, hasn’t taken a single test for the virus since the 2021 General Assembly convened on Jan. 11, a violation of rules the House adopted at the start of the session, said Kaleb McMichen, Ralston’s spokesman. The rule requires lawmakers to undergo testing twice a week, whether or not they are at the Georgia Capitol.
“I don’t know how long [the coronavirus pandemic] is going to last,” Ralston declared from the House rostrum. “But it behooves us to do whatever we can to be safe … rather than go out there and get media attention for standing up to authority.”
Speaking with reporters after being escorted off the House floor by Capitol Police, Clark accused Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, of overstepping his authority to limit members of the House from being present in the chamber. He also said the General Assembly’s COVID-19 testing program lacks teeth and is there for show rather than any effective safety practice.
“It’s dumb how we’re doing things telling everybody to do tests to make everybody feel comfortable,” Clark told reporters while not wearing a mask.
Clark and Ralston have clashed in the past. Clark introduced a resolution two years ago calling on the speaker to resign, charging Ralston – a lawyer – with abusing his power by taking advantage of legislative leave policies to delay court cases on behalf of clients accused of various violent crimes.
The flap led to the passage of legislation tightening the rules governing when a legislator who is a lawyer can obtain a delay in a case citing his or her legislative duties.
On Tuesday, Ralston said he’s simply looking out for the health and safety of House members during a pandemic that has killed nearly 12,000 Georgians.
“I’ve been to too many funerals,” he said. “I get tired of going to them.”
While Ralston was enforcing the COVID-19 testing rule in the House, Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan returned to the upper legislative chamber Tuesday after quarantining since testing positive two weeks ago. He urged lawmakers to comply with the twice-weekly testing requirement both the House and Senate have adopted.
“You’re all too valuable to have someone slip up and pass on [the virus] unknowingly,” Dugan, R-Carrollton, said from the Senate floor.
McMichen said Clark will be allowed to return to the House chamber upon complying with the testing policy.