May 24, 2013 Radio Commentary

Lobby Bill De-Fanged

Radio Commentary, 90.7, 91.7 New Life FM, May 24, 2013 – By Sue Ella Deadwyler

Good morning, Jim.  For some reason, this year’s legislative session was, especially, disturbing for volunteers who go to the state capitol to influence bills and resolutions that may become law and affect the way we live.  But, this year, the problem started with House Rule 171.9 that said representatives could not discuss issues with any person that was NOT wearing a $320 lobby badge … UNLESS that person lived in that representative’s district.

House Rule 171.9 became part of the House rules of order January 14th, the first day of the session.  From that day on, freedom of speech was curtailed for representatives, as well as volunteers, and both were denied free participation in our republican form of government.

But 16 days later, House Speaker Ralston introduced H.B. 142 as an ethics bill limiting gifts to legislators, but also requiring EVERY lobbyist – volunteer or professional – to buy that $320 badge and file periodic reports of expenditures to public officials or face whopping fines for late reports. The backlash from H.B. 142 caused it to go through 21 processes, including a six-member conference committee before differences between the House and Senate were reconciled and it passed March 28th, the last day of the session.  However, the version that passed was quite different from the version Mr. Ralston introduced.

Four times the final bill refers to a lobbyist as one who is “compensated specifically for undertaking to promote or oppose passage” of legislation in the General Assembly or other levels of government.  Then, it states that “any individual who is NOT compensated for the specific purpose of lobbying and is not reimbursed for expenses” does NOT have to register as a lobbyist.

In the final version of H.B. 142 lobbyists that register may claim and be repaid for expenses up to $75 for specific gifts to each government official.  However, there is NO charge for a lobbyist badge, but professional lobbyists must register and file mandatory periodic reports during the session and year-round.  For late reports, the first fine is $275, the second is another $1,000 and the third another $10,000 that will be collected by the ethics commission.

Last session, Rule 171.9 could have caused legislators to be disciplined by the Speaker if they discussed issues with anyone NOT wearing a lobby badge.  Since Rule 171.9 was passed by the House of Representatives as an addition to the House Rules of Order, the de-fanged version of H.B. 142 might not eliminate restrictions on discussions between representatives and volunteer lobbyists.  Stay tuned.  Maybe the House will repeal the rule on the first day of the 2014 session!  For Georgia Insight I’m Sue Ella Deadwyler, your capitol correspondent.