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Posted: January 12, 2013 9:27 p.m.

Newton reps in favor of lobbyist limits

State Senate expected to vote Monday on capping gifts at $100

The Georgia legislature is considering a couple of different measures to tighten lobbyist rules, and the state representatives for Newton County are in support of the efforts.

The state Senate could vote as soon as Monday on a rule that would cap lobbyist gifts at $100. This past Wednesday, a special Senate committee discussed some of the finer points during a meeting.

In general, supporters have proposed banning lawmakers from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists. The panel chairman, Sen. John Crosby, R-Tifton, said the committee intended to make clear that no gift could exceed the $100 limit, no matter how many lobbyists contribute toward it.

Those rules are expected to get a vote when the Senate reconvenes Monday. If enacted, lawmakers who don't follow the rules could be censured, fined or even expelled and the Senate rule of capping gifts would stand until the General Assembly adopts a law to that effect. Right now, there are no such limits.

On Thursday, House Speaker David Ralston said more people should be required to register as statehouse lobbyists and that Republican leaders would introduce legislation seeking to tighten rules on who must register as a lobbyist.

Ralston has supported prohibiting lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists. He has previously said that lobbyists should be forced to disclose their spending but had opposed limits on what lawmakers could accept.

About 81 percent of Georgia voters, or more than 1 million people, voted in favor of limiting what lobbyists can spend on state lawmakers in separate ballot questions in the Republican and Democratic primary elections this summer. Afterward, Ralston promised to introduce legislation calling for a total ban on lobbyist gifts.

State Representatives Dale Rutledge, R- District 109; Pam Dickerson, D-District 113; and Doug Holt, R-District 112 all agreed that there needed to be a cap or ban on lobbyist gifts.

"I'm glad that they built the house incentive and put committees together to come up with something and we're going to be looking at the recommendations hopefully during the first part of the session," Rutledge said. "A $100 gift - I'm fine with that. I'm looking forward to see what the committees come out with and what the recommendations are and the decision moving forward."

Dickerson said, "I'm quite sure that the committee that has been formed will come up with something that will benefit everyone. I'd just like to wait and see what they are going to present to us.

"I agree with the cap. I totally agree with the cap. I would just like to read it first before I agree upon it. It's just like signing a contract and then when you get the contract - you don't know what it is. I would just like to form my opinion based upon what is being put forward first. I think that makes good common sense," Dickerson said.

Holt said he also thought there should be a limit on lobbyist gifts saying that he would support a complete ban.

"As to the Senate's proposed internal rule changes, I don't know that it is my place to comment on the other chamber of the General Assembly. In any case, I think they are probably on board for changes to state law, which would be more binding, be they limits or bans or whatever," Holt said.

In addition to lobbyists spending caps, senators are also considering giving low-spending local politicians an option to file their campaign finance reports locally. Municipal officials have complained filing reports through the state's central database is too cumbersome, and many of those officials fail to file or send reports late, including several in Newton County.

The state's ethics commission is supposed to receive lists of local candidates from nearly 900 local election officials statewide, said Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Only 540 of those officials have the computer codes necessary to send that information to LaBerge's commission and it appears 300 or fewer are regularly sending reports.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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