As The State Turns: Senate Now Debates Its Rules

January 14, 2013 11:54 am

by Nathan · 23 comments

You can read the rules in it’s entirety here, but Jim Galloway has a pretty good run down of the proposed rules of the Georgia Senate.  A key note of interest concerning the $100 gift limit:

The same rules that put a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers include a large loophole for travel, and also bar private citizens from lodging complaints against senators. You’ll recall that the recent complaint against Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour was filed by a junior majoring in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, who compared Balfour’s mileage claims and found lobbyists reported buying Balfour meals on the same dates in August in New Orleans and San Antonio.

Also of note, there are plenty of loopholes and exemptions for the proposed “gift limit”.  It makes my spidey senses tingle.  A “gift limit” won’t be the silver bullet for reforming ethics in our state.  Proposing a “gift limit” while also preventing the public from making complaints (granted, some may be unfounded, but not all of them…) seems like a bad deal to me.  I urge those Senators not to lock out the public at-large.  You can tune into the debate that’s going on now in the Senate.

Another interesting provision of the rules that Jim points out:

Photographers and television camerapersons may NOT film or record the desk or any document or object on the desk of a Senator, unless permission is granted by the member.

No worries to all the Senators out there who read us.  You can read our fine blog without being captured on the TV or in the newspaper.  We know you don’t want to be reading what a bunch of political arsonists bloggers are saying about political rumors going around the Internets.

::UPDATE::

The measure (Senate rules) passes by a vote of 42 to 12.

Bridget Cantrell January 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm

“And I would’ve got away with it too had it not been for those meddling kids!”

Complaints can’t be submitted by the public or disclosed to the public?? This is not a good first step towards ethics reform :( It’s like their first official act was a big F-U to their constituents.

David Staples January 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You sound surprised… you mean you weren’t expecting business as usual?

Andre January 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I think, David, that the expectation is that when an elected official makes a pledge or promise to the public, they should uphold them and not double-cross people with actions that laces the pledge or promise with poison like the Senate did today.

David Staples January 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Oh, I completely understand the idea of what we’d like to see out of our elected officials and what they *should* be doing. I just find too many examples of what they should be doing not coinciding with what they are actually doing. They’ve learned, as Balfour so eloquently put it… “We’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected.” Perhaps this is the year for change? One can only hope.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

“It’s like their first official act was a big F-U to their constituents.”

….This is the Georgia Legislature where almost EVERY official act is a big F-U to their constituents.

John Vestal January 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Nothing about not having to disclose ethics violation findings publicly?….or are they going to wait and try to tack that on to a fishing/hunting license bill again?

Three Jack January 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

It’s like their first official act was a big F-U to their constituents. queue the Balfour quote.

Obviously our elected representatives need a remedial course on the definition of ‘reform’ –

a: to put or change into an improved form or condition;
b: to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses
c: to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action

Hard to see how the above rules achieve even the slightest hint of reform.

Josh McKoon January 14, 2013 at 1:39 pm

The Rules of the State Senate have never allowed citizens to file complaints for violation of Senate Rules. OCGA 45-10-90 outlines the process for filing complaints by citizens which incidentally is what Mr. Christian and Ms. Dooley relied upon.

The Senate has established a real gift limit that applies now. I believe everyone will see the impact of these reforms as we operate under them. That said today’s action is a step in the right direction not the end of the fight for ethics reform.

Andre January 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm

You’re right. This is the beginning. I’m hopeful that you’ll release the proposed ethics reform bill to the public so that we’ll have an opportunity to read it ourselves, make notes, and send comments back to our legislators. I know you will, but I still wanted to make the request.

Three Jack January 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Sorry senator. While I appreciate your effort to actually reform ethics laws, the rules that passed today accomplish absolutely nothing toward that end. I give you Sec. 4/Par. 3/Sub Sec. C which details what may be accepted from a registered lobbyist with no restrictions on amount:

(c) Actual and reasonable expenses for admission, registration, food, beverages, travel, and lodging attributed to participating in events, seminars, or educational programs sponsored by or in conjunction with a civic, charitable, governmental, educational, professional, community, or business organization or institution where attendance is related to the Senator’s official duties;

If I read that correctly, any savvy lobbyist simply makes his/her gift and/or dinner fit within the broad definition of allowable expenditures listed above thus avoiding the gift limit. This is not a start toward ethics reform, it is a step backwards as many will now claim to be operating under the ‘most stringent lobbyist regulations in Georgia history’. Better to wait and do real reform than put forth diversionary BS like the rule adopted today.

Nathan January 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Fair enough and makes sense. The Senate body makes its own rules, so I suppose the body is the one to enforce the rules and make complaints under the rules. Do I understand it correctly, Senator?

John Vestal January 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Your efforts may not be making you the most popular guy in the chamber, Josh, but they’re certainly appreciated by us simple folk. Thanks.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

+1

Josh McKoon January 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Nathan you are correct.

Three Jack, I’d be pretty nervous taking gifts involving an unreasonable expenditure since any member of the Senate can now haul me before the Ethics Committee over it.

Three Jack January 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Josh, In your case, I see the point. But for the rest, the word ‘reasonable’ is an open invitation to continue on business as usual.

David Staples January 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Yes, but what are the chances of that actually happening, perhaps out of fear of retaliation?

Josh McKoon January 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I guess my point is since I or any other Senator could haul that person before the Ethics Committee I would expect that wild have a chilling effect on such shenanigans.

Three Jack January 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Again I appreciate your position senator, but I am less than encouraged that your colleagues will be as vigilant as you in policing themselves….we’ll see I guess.

Vesuvius January 14, 2013 at 9:08 pm

These rules are written with so many loopholes that they are totally worthless. If this is the Senate’s way of trying to fool Georgians that there has been significant ethics reform, no one is fooled. How about proposing a bill to be enacted as law saying that no bribes – I mean gifts – in any amount or form are to be taken by any senator or representative from a lobbyist under any circumstances? The penalty for violating this law should be addressed through the D.A.’s Office and include removal from office.

Harsh? I do not think so. When I first started practicing law for a governmental agency in New York City 20+ years ago, the members of my hiring class were told on our first day that we were not permitted to take anything from any person in conjunction with our jobs. Nothing, or we would be fired on the spot when – not if – discovered. If one of us was offered a cup of coffee at a law firm while waiting to do a desposition, we gave the clerk a quarter for it. Gift checks sent to us by opposing counsel after settling cases were returned, as were holiday gifts of cookies and other goodies. And guess what? We all complied and no one thought it was a hardship. It just made sense to us. And none of us was vested with the awesome responsibility and privilege to make state laws. Very troubling.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 14, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Yes, it is the Senate’s way of trying to fool Georgians that there has been significant ethics reform. Although, they don’t really care if anyone is fooled or not, they just want to keep receiving the gifts and perks from lobbyists and so on.

And yes, it is very troubling, although in the Georgia Legislature it’s just another day of business-as-usual so unfortunately its not in the least bit surprising.

Dave Bearse January 14, 2013 at 10:51 pm

The example of the House, where Richardson’s “common knowledge” affair didn’t warrant any House action even in response to a formal complaint, and didn’t make it illegal to sleep with a lobbyist even after Richardson’s wife precipitated Richardson’s removal, does not inspire confidence that a Georgia General Assembly that isn’t open to Open Records request can police itself.

And what did the Senate do after information concerning Balfour’s false per diem and reimbursement reports was published? As best I recollect absolutely nothing until a formal outside complaint was lodged.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 14, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Why would make it illegal to sleep with lobbyists when sleeping with lobbyists is one of the “perks” of being a state legislator in a leadership position?

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Sorry, I meant “Why would THEY make it illegal…”

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