Winning final leg of ethics race

With three-quarters of Georgia’s 2013 legislating days now done, the General Assembly should resolve to do whatever’s necessary to ensure comprehensive ethics reform becomes law his year. This important topic for Georgians and for our state’s system of government cannot fall by the wayside.
That means no “Oops” moments, legislative missteps of various sort or last-minute sleight-of-hand maneuvers should derail the cause of strengthening laws around how lobbyists interact with elected officials. Our state deserves better — the people have made that abundantly clear. An ethics law with teeth should be headed toward Gov. Nathan Deal for signing into law by the time the final gavel falls — this year.
We’re at least halfway there already, and lawmakers seem to have taken to heart the advisory questions from the July ballot that showed a tsunami of support for substantive change.
The Georgia Senate is expected as soon as this week to take up the cause of ethics by considering House Bill 142, which passed the House by a vote of 164-4 on Feb. 25. That date should be outlined in bold when historians write future works about state government.
There’s been a lot said about ethics during this year’s session of the General Assembly. Early on, it seemed as though the Senate and House were in a race to see which chamber would act first. By that measure, the Senate won, overwhelmingly passing a rule on Day 1 that lowered a $100 cap onto lobbyist expenditures. The rule contained sizable loopholes, among them the provision that lobbyists can expend $100 on senators as many times as they want, as long as no single gift exceeds that amount. The Senate rule shortcomings led House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, to famously quip that it was more of “a visor” than a cap. He had a point.
Such political jockeying is the way of politics. It’s acceptable, and can be entertaining at times — as long as the people’s important work gets done by the time the cry of Sine Die echoes in the legislative halls. Improving Georgia’s rules around ethical behavior by lawmakers and lobbyists must get done.
It should prove no big deal then that Ralston has different ideas than the Senate about what constitutes ethics reform. After feeling considerable heat over a lobbyist-paid trip to Europe, Ralston now favors a total ban on gifts to individual lawmakers. That seemingly absolute stance is tempered by significant exceptions. It would be permissible, for example, to buy food for an entire committee, or for colleges to offer a single ticket annually to all state legislators for a sporting event.
House and Senate leaders deserve credit for hearing the voice of Georgians and for acting to tighten up free-flowing lobbyist spending at the Gold Dome. Their next act is to reconcile among the two chambers what change looks like.
All of which now leaves the state at the point where the final stages of wrangling will take place as lawmakers seek to craft final legislation that can draw sufficient votes to pass. In our view, we’re happy to take a wait-and-see posture and see what do’s and don’ts emerge at the end. We will note that public opinion on the final product will be heavily influenced by just how many loopholes and exceptions are contained in the final bill. Also included should be appropriate oversight and resources to ensure compliance.
The end result must be a significant reform in the current way of lobbying at the state capitol. The cause of good governance demands that.
Legislators have wisely acknowledged the wish of Georgians on the broader point above. Ethics reform cannot succeed if they lose attention to the details in the final days of the session.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

10 comments Add your comment

Jesus Christ crushes NWO, DBMs

March 19th, 2013
12:32 pm

In the tradition of black church, “I feel my help coming this afternoon.” Somewhere I’ve read, we have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passion unchecked by morality and religion. Our government was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Amen?

Jesus Christ crushes NWO, DBMs

March 19th, 2013
12:12 pm

@9:22am- How easy is it? It’s as easy as the officers and anyone pursuant thereto to faithfully adhere to policy, rules, and regulations set forth by our Police Departments, especially the Los Angeles Police Department. Everyone knows that there is a thin blue line in our government and within any area of employment in our country.

Everyone is aware of what the policy, rules, regulations, or addendums are. But the thin blue line trumps each of them. It gives everyone involved cover for overt criminal activity. And if the thin blue line is violated, your name might be taken away. Or you may be imprisoned, or killed. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Journalist Susan Lindauer, Sheriff Derwin Brown, Officer Christopher Dorner, or just be honest with the man in the mirror…

Amen?

Milo

March 19th, 2013
10:51 am

As long as Mr Deal is Gov of Ga, there will be no Ethics Bill with any bite. Do you really think he is going to install a group that can bring charges that might put him in jail? All of the GOP in Ga would be waiting on a trial of some sort if we had a REAL Ethics Board.

Shamehia

March 19th, 2013
10:33 am

“…public opinion on the final product will be heavily influenced by just how many loopholes and exceptions are contained in the final bill.”

Then avoid loopholes and exceptions altogether by making the rule NO GRATUITIES … period. Anything other than that and the public will just suspect more sleight of hand.

Road Scholar

March 19th, 2013
9:22 am

What part of “NO GIFTS” do they not understand? No gifts = None plus no exemptions/loopholes! As to travel expenses, have the house and senate budget an amount for the legislators to formally request approval of the governor’s office to use. Have the funds budgeted by the ratio of party members elected from each party so that one party does not “bogart” the fund. Where should some of the budgeted money come from? How about lobbyist license fees???? Expense request forms and expense reports can be used …just like at the Department level…to document the requests, approvals, and expenditures! See that was easy!

Jesus Christ crushes NWO, DBMs

March 18th, 2013
5:34 pm

This is laughable. It didn’t take very long for the 1970 implementation of mandatory integration in the south to soil the people, especially African Americans. It was commonly known in our community that it had already soiled virtually all of the people in the north, especially African Americans. With this understanding, how can any sane person genuinely seek ethic reform in our system of government?

Ethic reform is relevant only if we have moral politicians and citizens. The mark of integration has virtually reduced all of our politicians and citizens to dogs, damned sinners. Given this reality, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would say, do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

Amen?

Bernie

March 18th, 2013
1:47 pm

Bob Loblaw @ 1:01 pm – SHhhhhhh! The Mule must do the Plowing…..that is what mules do!

Bob Loblaw

March 18th, 2013
1:01 pm

@South GA Retiree:

You really think a 20-something paid about $30k a year can supply all the facts a legislator needs to know about a bill?

You ever been to the Capitol?

Bernie

March 17th, 2013
3:31 pm

What Ethics, we don’t need no stiinkin ethics rules down here. We are just a bunch of good ole country Boys trying to hold this thing together. So what, if we do a little Back Slapping and greasing of the palms.That is the way we have been doing it for years. This is the Oil of the engine that is Georgia! without it what would we have….Does the City of Atlanta come to mind?

We can’t have that! its just ain’t Riiight! it would be utter chaos! dogs going with cats! a regular Sodmon and Gomorrah! on steroids! Why you folks want to insist this upon us down here does not make any sense to US. We just goin to find another way to get the BUTTER from the DUCK, if you know what I mean.

Have a good day yall!

South GA Retiree

March 17th, 2013
3:11 pm

For honest legislators, writing an ethics bill is simple. In one sentence, “No lobbyist or anyone else may give a state or local politician anything at anytime for any reason.” After all, we elect politicians to serve us, not to be served by others who would buy their votes. The current version in the legislature still is too loose and makes a mockery of what a clean and decent law ought to be. The law must allow no gifts for anyone, even a hamburger, because once something is allowed, the door is open and soon is letting in all manner of loopholes and exceptions. Shut the door to all and let the legislators do their jobs with the facts supplied by their staff members. It’s easy, and those who disagree should resign and go back home.