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Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 11:39am

The Bills That Died

State lawmakers passed 200 major bills during the 40-day legislative session, but a bill that would have stiffened ethics rules for elected officials was not among them.

Lawmakers also didn’t pass a measure that would have lifted restrictions on carrying guns to the state Capitol and other public places.

Another bill that failed would have stipulated that money collected for scrap tires, for instance, would go to its intended purpose: landfill cleanups.

William Perry of the watchdog group, Common Cause Georgia, says it’s disappointing the bill didn’t pass.

“I think voters have the expectation that if there’s going to be a designated fee, that that money go to that fee," he said in an interview. "The example is Joshua’s Law, which is a fund to pay for public drivers’ education. It collected $58 million, and only $8 million has gone to drivers’ education.”

Rep. Jay Powell, a Camilla Republican, sponsored the bill. He says he rejected a state Senate demand that would have tied the bill’s enforcement to having 7 percent of the state budget in the rainy day fund.

But he says the bill isn’t dead.

“It’s my intention to introduce it every year I’m up there until the Senate gets embarrassed by having to answer questions at home and from the press as to why they don’t want to act responsibly,” he said in an interview.

The state has only had 7 percent of the budget in the rainy day fund once. Powell says that means the state Senators who altered the measure wanted to kill the bill. But the Senators, including Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Hill, say they need flexibility to use the money from fees to pay for other things.

The ethics bill, on the other hand, would have placed a $100 cap on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers.

Perry says there’s a simple reason why lawmakers failed to pass the bill.

“They’ve grown accustomed to a legislative lifestyle where they get things," he said. "They come down here for the 40 days they’re doing business and they’re bought lunches and dinners and sports tickets and things that are meant to curry favor with them, and they grow used to that lifestyle.”

Many Republican legislative leaders, including House Speaker David Ralston, say Georgia has strong disclosure laws, which allow voters to see how lobbyists spent money on lawmakers.

Perry says he thinks the tide may be turning because in past years, no lawmaker would even sponsor an ethics bill.

Common Cause teamed up with Tea Party groups to push the ethics bill, and Perry said they will use the bill’s failure as an issue during the fall elections.

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