Originally created 02/21/01

Senate Republicans introduce ethics bills



ATLANTA - Georgia Senate Republicans unveiled an ethics reform package Tuesday that includes three bills that failed last year and a new measure aimed at companies lobbying for state contracts.

"We have enough trouble with skepticism about the public arena," said Sen. Sonny Perdue, R-Bonaire, chief sponsor of two of the measures. "It's time we restore the public trust."

Mr. Perdue is sponsoring the new bill, which would require anyone seeking a state contract to register as a lobbyist and file disclosure reports detailing their spending.

"This is nothing more than good business sense ... letting in some sunshine as to who's doing business with whom," Mr. Perdue said.

But Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker questioned whether the state could process the number of reports that would have to be filed under such an expanded requirement.

"If they want to register all businessmen as lobbyists ... that means about 5,000 business people in Georgia," said Mr. Walker, D-Augusta.

But Mr. Walker said he would support any ethics-reform legislation that makes practical sense, including a measure sponsored by Sen. Tom Price that would create an oversight committee to investigate financial dealings involving the state's largest hospital, Atlanta-based Grady Memorial.

"There's undue influence that's been adequately demonstrated by some vendors at Grady hospital," said Mr. Price, R-Roswell.

During last year's session, Sen. David Scott, D-Atlanta, accused Mr. Walker of a conflict of interest in landing a contract for his company, Georgia Personnel, to supply temporary employees to Grady, which depends on the General Assembly for funding.

Mr. Walker has denied using his influence to secure the contract, which he has said his company won fairly.

The Senate passed Mr. Scott's resolution to form an oversight committee, but it was bottled up in the House.

Another of the ethics bills back from last year would prohibit lawmakers from soliciting campaign contributions during the legislative session. Current law only forbids actually receiving a donation during those weeks.

And a fourth measure, aimed at the so-called "revolving door" of politics, would forbid ex-legislators from lobbying their former colleagues within one year of leaving the General Assembly.

"We simply ask for a window, a cooling off (period)," said Mr. Perdue. "In a citizen legislature, (one year) is trying to be fair and balanced."

The bill also would apply to former state department or agency heads and former state board members.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.