Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ralston: new ethics proposal is more than 'gimmicks cloaked as reform'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 5:42 PM

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, revealed a plan earlier today that would overhaul current ethics laws under the Gold Dome.

The proposed reforms most notably include a complete lobbyist gift ban. They would also expand the legal definition of who qualifies as a lobbyist. Ralston said that these changes, if passed, would go a long way toward restoring the public's faith in officials statewide.

"It is essential that the public trust be maintained and that citizens have confidence in those they elect to govern," he told reporters at a press conference.

In addition, the lobbyist restrictions would ban lawmakers from accepting tickets to most sporting and entertainment events. They would also restore the ability for state's ethics commission - formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission - to implement new rules.

While the lobbyist gift ban would apply to individual lawmakers, individuals could still give gifts to large groups, such as committees, the entire House or Senate, or even the entire General Assembly.

Despite some loopholes still remaining, Ralston thinks that the new bill represents a major improvement over recent ethics rules changes. When one reporter asked if the recently passed Senate rules were too weak, he replied: "I don't even know that it rises to weakness."

It's hardly the first time that Ralston has spoken out against the new Senate rules. The speaker poked fun at Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during the Eggs and Issues breakfast earlier this month, saying recent ethics reforms were "more of a sun visor than a cap."

Gov. Deal also recently supported the need for subsequent ethics laws during his "State of the State" address, in which he said that public trust could be regained by adopting further reforms that apply to "all elected officials at the state and local levels."

What remains to be seen regarding the latest round of ethics reforms is whether they will apply to "fly-in lobbyists" as well as "those corporate folks who come in and aren't captured by anyone's rules." According to the AJC's Jim Galloway, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, says that should also include national activists such as anti-tax czar Grover Norquist:

I think Grover Norquist has had an outsized influence on the way we discuss and debate issues here at the Capitol. I think anyone who can change the direction of a state should be considered a lobbyist and should be captured by our rules and responsibilities. The fact that he has never been paid to do so in the state of Georgia should not exclude or exempt him from responsibility for the work that he does.

No word yet on whether Norquist considers the ethics reform to be a violation of his anti-tax pledge. But once Ralston's bill becomes available, we'll share some more details about the legislation.

UPDATE, Jan. 30, 11:48 a.m. Feast your eyes on a copy of House Bill 142 that Ralston filed yesterday.

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