ATLANTA — After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect today.
The ethics laws are among a small number of major bills that become law with the new year. Others include rules requiring daycare employees to undergo more exhaustive background checks, and a requirement that schools provide information about concussion risks to parents.
While the ethics laws set the first state limits on how much a lobbyist can spend, there remain considerable loopholes and questions about how the laws will be enforced. The state ethics commission, which has been dealing with various investigations and federal subpoenas, must interpret the new laws and create rules for compliance. That process could take months.
Under the new laws, lobbyists will not be able to spend more than $75 at a time. Previously, lobbyists could spend as much as they wanted as long as it was noted on disclosure reports.
Potential loopholes exist. For instance, lobbyists can still spend more to play host to group events where all members of the General Assembly or all members of a smaller group, such as a caucus, are invited. In addition, the $75 cap is on lobbyists, not lawmakers, so it’s conceivable that more than one lobbyist might join forces and split the cost.
Two other major pieces of legislation are also set to take effect. The first is a significant change to rules governing the state’s roughly 6,300 licensed child care facilities.
The law requires fingerprint-based background checks for all new hires starting Jan. 1, and any facility not in compliance could have its license revoked.
Previously, a basic name check was the only requirement for most child care center employees, and that was limited to searching criminal records in Georgia. Only the director of the facility had been required to undergo the more comprehensive test.
Eventually, all employees will be subject to the checks. A separate component of the law requires all current employees to undergo the checks by Jan. 1, 2017, and every five years during their employment. Those with felony convictions would be ineligible to work, although there is an appeals process for those who committed crimes long ago that did not involve children.
The second major bill to become law is the “Return to Play Act,” aimed at increasing education and awareness about the risks of youth concussions.
The legislation requires public and private schools to provide information to parents of student athletes about the dangers and risk of concussions and establish policies for dealing with head injuries.
Under the law, any young athlete who exhibits signs of a concussion must be removed from play and evaluated by a health care provider. If the athlete suffers a concussion, a health care provider must provide medical clearance before he or she can return to play.