Two state ethics reform bills pass House
by Erin Dentmon
edentmon@cherokeetribune.com
February 27, 2013 12:00 AM | 1458 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two state ethics reform bills passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives on Monday, but for the first of the pair, House Bill 142, two of the four “no” votes came from Cherokee County Reps. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) and Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs).

The bill passed 164-4.

The bill bans many lobbyist gifts such as meals and tickets to sporting events, although the bill also includes some exceptions.

“I was pleased with the fact it had such a resounding victory,” House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) told the Tribune. “We gave our members the opportunity to vote for ethics reform or against ethics reform. One-hundred and sixty-four voted to ban lobbyist gifts, provide greater openness and transparency, give authority back to the ethics commission to enforce and police the laws, and four people voted against all those proposals.”

As part of new requirements for lobbyists, the bill requires any person, paid or unpaid, to receive a lobbyist identification badge. Unpaid people who lobby at the Capitol for no more than five days in a calendar year are not required to register.

Lobbyists who are not compensated and do not make expenditures are able to file for exemption from lobbying fees.

This requirement is where Caldwell and Turner each said they take issue with the bill.

“I believe that forcing unpaid citizens who are not making expenditures on legislators is a violation of their constitutional right to petition their governing officials, regardless of whether or not they are representing a group,” Caldwell said.

“I firmly believe that had I voted to pass HB 142, I would have been voting in favor of placing restrictions on volunteer citizen activists’ ability to associate with a group and to exercise their right to petition their government,” Turner said.

The Speaker of the House did not agree.

“Anyone who takes that view, with all due respect, is looking for a reason to vote against ethics reform,” Ralston said.

Ralston said the requirement to receive the badge is reasonable.

“It simply required that people who come to the Capitol on a frequent basis to advocate for or against measures to register, because that’s what lobbyists do,” he said.

Ralston said he was “a little surprised” that Turner and Caldwell voted against the bill.

Both representatives campaigned on the issue of ethics reform. Both have refused campaign contributions from lobbyists.

“I am an advocate of reforming the system, but not at the price of Georgians’ constitutional rights,” Caldwell said.

“I look forward to the coming day when an ethics reform package addresses the problems of special interests while defending the constitutional rights of every citizen,” Turner said.

The other “no” votes were cast by Rep. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) and Rep. Delvis Dutton (R-Glennville). Three representatives did not vote, and nine were excused.

HB 143, a reorganization of campaign finance law, passed 167-0. The bills now head to the Senate for consideration.

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