The Georgia speaker of the House has introduced a sweeping new bill that end lobbyist's gifts to all elected officials and redefine what is a lobbyist.
The centerpiece of this package is "a complete ban on lobbyists spending on individual members of the general assembly, a complete ban on gifts, tickets to athletic events, concerts and other entertainment events," said House Speaker David Ralston.
The state Senate earlier this month approved a rule banning all senators from receiving gifts from lobbyists totaling more than $100.
Ralston's ban would apply to all elected officials, including lawmakers, mayors and City Council members, if both the House and Senate approve Ralston's proposal.
Ralston's bill is a reversal of his earlier opposition a ban on gift giving.
The speaker said his bill is in response to a question on last summer's ballot, which asked voters if they wanted to cap lobbyists' spending on politicians. The public said yes.
"We have an obligation to listen to the public. We have to respect those results," Ralston said.
Ralston's bill would also restore power to the state's government transparency and campaign finance commission and expand the definition of who is a lobbyist.
"People who are advocating for or against a bill are lobbyists," Ralston said.
State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who pushed through the lobbyist cap in the Senate, said Ralston's bill could limit the average citizens' right to free speech.
"There are significant problems with this legislation," McKoon said.
"If you wanted to go to a City Council meeting and speak on a public agenda, you'd need to register as with the commission. You'd need to pay $300 to do that. If you go to speak to a public officer who you don't elect and you're advocating in the public interest. This bill says you've got to register as a lobbyist," McKoon said.
Currently there is no limit on how much a lobbyist can give to an elected official in Georgia.
Watchdog groups have called for lawmakers to ban lobbyist gift giving, especially when it came to light 2010 that a lobbyist paid for Ralston's $17,000 trip to Europe, a decision Ralston defended.
"I could have taken that trip on the taxpayer dime. I chose not to," Ralston said.
The bill goes to a House committee for review.
If the bill clears the full House, it would go to the Senate for a vote.
Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer said, "The Senate set a new tone on the first day of the legislative session with the passage of restrictions on lobbyist gifts. I welcome Speaker Ralston's contributions to the ethics debate and look forward to reviewing his proposed legislation."
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