ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recommitted to supporting criminal justice changes and alternatives to public schools on Monday as he was sworn in for a second term in office, and said his mission for the next four years is "building upon the foundation we have laid."
Deal's swearing-in was held inside the House chamber after a rainy weather forecast forced organizers to cancel an outdoor ceremony on the newly completed Liberty Plaza across from the Capitol.
Deal recapped his administration's work on criminal justice during his first term, including changes to sentencing requirements, and said the state would "continue leading the nation with meaningful justice reform."
"Our prisons have always been schools," Deal said. "In the past, the inmates have learned how to become better criminals. Now they are taking steps to earn diplomas and gain job skills that will lead to employment after they serve their sentences."
Deal, 72, was re-elected along with the rest of the Republican slate in November, maintaining the party's complete control of Georgia government. Deal has said the race against Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, will be his final political campaign.
Deal was sworn in by his son, Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal. After his own ceremony, Deal administered the oath to other statewide constitutional officers: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Attorney General Sam Olens, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Schools Superintendent Richard Woods.
Dignitaries present included former governors Sonny Perdue, Roy Barnes and Zell Miller and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The event featured a performance of "Georgia on My Mind" by students at a Clayton County charter school.
Deal said the students of Utopian Academy benefited from a state commission to authorize charter schools, which was established by a constitutional amendment. Without that change, Deal said, some of the students "would still be sitting in schools that are underperforming."
"In several years, many of them will be the first in their families to attend college," Deal said. "These are exciting new beginnings, and we will work in this term to plant more of these opportunities."
House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams said she and other Democrats will pay close attention to the details of any proposal related to education. She said discussion of a recovery district to manage failing schools, which Deal has urged lawmakers to consider, hinges on why schools struggle.
"The responsible question is 'Why are they failing?'" Abrams said. "If it's a failure caused by underfunding by the state that requires one solution. If it's a structural issue that's a different solution."
Deal offered few details of his agenda for this year's legislative session or the next four years on Monday. He has previously said he intends to focus on the state's education system and continue working on changes to the criminal justice system. But state legislative leaders also have discussed tackling a $1 billion gap in transportation and infrastructure funding, while state agencies and other interests are clamoring for a bigger piece of the state's budget.
Deal's State of the State address scheduled for Wednesday is expected to contain more detail about the governor's priorities for the legislative session, which also began on Monday.