ATLANTA -- Ejecting elected officials from office for failing to pay their taxes may be popular, but the details are too complicated to win passage this year after the House Ethics Committee shelved a proposed constitutional amendment today.
"If that takes another year, so be it," said Chairman Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta.
The bipartisan proposal hit a snag over ensuring that it covered every possible situation that could inadvertently trip up a state or local official, such as a former business partner who stole the tax money instead of paying it.
"We certainly don't want anyone to get caught in that trap," said the author, Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton.
House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter reminded his colleagues on the committee that confusing wording or unintended results would be harder to fix next year with a simple bill, as is commonly done with routine legislation.
"I'm thinking of every case scenario that could happen," he said. "Y'all remember, we're putting this in the constitution. This is not something you can clean up real quick."
The tax issue arose last year when the Department of Revenue reported that about two-dozen members of the House and Senate had failed to pay their taxes. A bill quickly passed then that requires the department to warn legislators and then give their names to the House and Senate ethics committees.
This year, Wilkinson, said there remains one member of the House who never filed for taxes on earnings from 2008. Wilkinson wouldn't name the lawmaker but said he had met with him twice this week about the matter. Ultimately, the member could be punished once the committee is satisfied there are no excuses.
Another member came to the committee's attention, Wilkinson said, because of late filing. Once it began investigating, the committee learned that legislator's accountant had failed to note on the return that it was allowed an extra two months because of a state disaster declaration triggered by flooding in the lawmaker's area. That's the kind of situation that could lead to unnecessary embarrassment of a public official that the committee hopes to avoid.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have had to be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and then a majority of voters in November. Wilkinson said it would be re-drafted for introduction next January for a second attempt then.