Ethics revisions head to Deal’s desk

ATLANTA -- Rank-and-file employees and business owners won’t have to register as lobbyists before they can ask their local legislator to support or oppose a bill under a law change headed to the governor’s desk.

Today, the House agreed to changes by the Senate last week on House Bill 232 that reverses a recent interpretation by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

The commission issued an advisory opinion March 7 that interprets the Ethics in Government Act to mean that everyone who is being paid at the moment they meet with a legislator are to be considered lobbyists and subject to registration and report filing every two weeks. They could be fined $10,000 for every report not filed.

Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, sponsored HB 232 initially to make clear that vendors to local governments could reward their sales representatives with a commission, something that is prohibited of lobbyists. After the House passed Lindsey’s version, the Senate amended it to also narrow the definition of who is a lobbyist to apply only to people who spend more than 10 percent of their time talking to legislators.

Lindsey said the advisory opinion could have prevented teachers, doctors, the self-employed and nearly any rank-and-file worker from having a say with legislators.

Asked if the General Assembly should restore the rule-making authority it stripped from the commission, he said no.

“Given the advisory opinion (broadening the definition of lobbyists), I’m going to look at that very skeptically, and I want to make sure there are sufficient legislative oversights of any kind of rule-making authority because I am very, very troubled by that advisory opinion which I believe to be in clear violation of the First Amendment of the (U.S.) Constitution,” he said.

The commission can issue advisory opinions on its interpretation of the law, but it no longer has authority to draft rules that would impose additional requirements of lobbyists, candidates and public officials.






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