Tue., March 19, 2013 12:58pm (EDT)

Ethics Bill Riles Georgians
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 1 year ago

ATLANTA  —  
Many activists and concerned Georgians testified Tuesday at the State Capitol against an ethics reform bill. They voiced alarm that the current version of the bill would force them to register if they spent more than five days at the Capitol talking to lawmakers. They say that would interfere with their First Amendment rights (Photo: Jeanne Bonner).
Many activists and concerned Georgians testified Tuesday at the State Capitol against an ethics reform bill. They voiced alarm that the current version of the bill would force them to register if they spent more than five days at the Capitol talking to lawmakers. They say that would interfere with their First Amendment rights (Photo: Jeanne Bonner).
Many activists and concerned Georgians testified Tuesday at the State Capitol against an ethics reform bill. They voiced alarm that the current version of the bill would force them to register if they spent more than five days at the Capitol talking to lawmakers.

Legislators wrote the bill after 1 million Georgians backed a non-binding referendum to limit lobbyists’ spending at the Capitol.

It showed bipartisan support for a $100 gift cap. But the current bill includes a provision requiring some activists to register with the state.

And that has many volunteers who spend their days at the Capitol riled up.

Ray Boyd, a Morgan County activist, says the House lawmakers behind the bill are missing the point.

“The simple question that the people in Georgia wanted you guys to address was to limit the amount of money that lobbyists could spend on you guys," he told lawmakers at the hearing. "It was a very simple, one-line presentation.”

Boyd also expressed concern that it may too late in the session for lawmakers to come to an agreement on a compromise bill.

Opponents also say the provision would limit their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly.

One called the bill a "R.A.T." tax -- a representative access tax. Others said the day-limit was onerous.

Jack Smith, a Tea Party supporter from Ellijay, said Georgians provide the money for the legislators to be at the Capitol passing laws. And he said no one should have to register.

"If I have to be here every day, so be it," he told lawmakers. "I have to talk to 200 of you to stop a bill."

Rep. Rich Golick, a Smyrna Republican, presented the bill at the hearing. He said the provision targets anyone who spends more than five days at the Capitol talking to lawmakers other than their representatives.

He says the number of days isn’t important. He says a Georgian speaking to a lawmaker only on behalf of himself doesn’t need to register.

“But where they are seeking to influence legislation, the official acts of a public official, on behalf of an entity, that’s the essence of lobbying and that person needs to register,” he said.

There was no vote at the Senate committee hearing. Lawmakers say the committee may vote on the bill Wednesday and there could be a full Senate vote on Friday.