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Monday, January 14, 2013 - 11:54am

First Step Of Ethics Reform

Georgia lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday, and the Senate wasted no time in passing a gift cap as part of the chamber’s rules. It will bar lobbyists from spending more than $100 on any one Senator.

The rule change came as new legislators were sworn in, and each chamber elected officers. Many lawmakers brought their families, leading to toddlers running the halls of the Capitol.

State senators had a spirited debate about changing its rules to include the gift cap.

The change comes after several notable expenditures by lobbyists.

William Perry is with Common Cause Georgia, a group leading an ethics reform campaign. He says the rule combats the most flagrant abuses. State law doesn’t limit how much lobbyists can spend on Georgia lawmakers.

“This rule, had it been imposed on the House three years ago, would have prevented Speaker Ralston from taking a $17,000 trip to Europe with his family," he said at a press conference. "Those are the type of big-ticket items that have concerned us.”

David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said he took the trip to look at high-speed rail travel in Europe.

Supporters of the rule change say it will act as a stopgap measure if lawmakers don’t pass a bill imposing the gift cap on all legislators.

Ronnie Chance, a Tyrone Republican, addressed the bill during Senate floor debate.

“With the passage of this rule, we are not waiting for legislation to come forward," he said. "With the passage of this rule, we have true ethics reform, we have a gift cap in place the moment we leave the chamber. It’s in place in time for lunch.”

Some Senators voted against the rule change, which also included officer elections, because they were not allowed to amend it.