Today is the 30th day of the 2012 Georgia General Assembly, the day when proposed legislation must be passed by either the House or Senate or be banished to the trashcan for the rest of the session.
House Bill 1105, which would have put a limit of $100 on the value of “gifts” that lobbyists may give to legislators, is destined for that trashcan. From the moment the bill was introduced, House Speaker David Ralston made certain it was going nowhere by assigning it to the House Rules Committee, where it could be kept safely contained, like an crazy old aunt locked up in the basement. Today it dies.
A similar chain of events has played out on the other side of the Capitol, where Senate Bill 391 also would have put a limit of $100 on the value of “gifts” that could be given legally by lobbyists to legislators.
Unlike the speaker of the House, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle publicly claims to support legislation limiting lobbyist “gifts.” He just has a very odd way of demonstrating that support.
Like his counterpart in the House, Cagle has ensured that SB 391 would never see the light of day by assigning it to his own chamber’s Rules Committee, where it has continued to sit untouched ever since.
The whole thing has become downright embarrassing: Every one of Georgia’s neighboring states has enacted either a ban or severe restriction on lobbyist “gifts,” but not Georgia. In fact, Georgia is one of only three states in the country with no restriction on that form of commerce.
In addition, public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a “gift” ban or restriction. Georgia citizens instinctively understand the danger that such “gift-giving” poses to honest government, and they want it to end. The consensus is so broad and widespread that as the year began, a coalition of groups from across the political spectrum, including Common Cause and Georgia Tea Party Patriots, made it their goal to outlaw expensive goodies.
Even with all that, neither of the bills introduced were given even the small courtesy of a subcommittee hearing.
While that’s a disappointment in its own right, it also reflects two larger realities. First, it tells you just how deep the sense of entitlement now runs among many, but certainly not all, of the people elected to represent us under the Gold Dome. They have come to believe that by virtue of their success and power they deserve such “gifts,” and they truly do not understand why others would try to deny them the rewards of their office.
Second and more importantly, it tells you a lot about who our legislators are truly serving. The willingness of legislative leaders to publicly thumb their noses at voter opinion so they can continue taking “gifts” from special interests suggests an attitude that plays out more subtly, but more harmfully, across a wide range of issues, from utility regulation to consumer protection to special tax giveaways to the well-connected.
We may elect these people and pay their salaries, but when crunch time comes, we’re not the ones they are trying to protect and serve.
– Jay Bookman