Georgia State Senate, opening day of 2013 legislative session
Georgia State House, opening day of 2013 legislative session
Georgia House Speaker Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge)
William Perry, Georgia Common Cause
Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus)
ATLANTA -- After years of resisting what many consider meaningful ethics reform, Georgia state lawmakers are suddenly trying to outdo each other to limit gifts from lobbyists on the first day of this year's state legislative session.
Up until now lobbyists could give any gift, no matter how extravagant, to a Georgia lawmaker, as long as it was reported.
But that changed on Monday, at least for some of them.
"It's a big win today; we took an enormous step forward for ethics in this state," claimed State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus).
McKoon has spent the past couple of years building a bipartisan coalition to limit gifts from lobbyists.
On Monday his fellow Senate colleagues overwhelmingly passed a new rule to cap those individual gifts at $100.
They apparently took their cue from more than a million Georgia voters who said they favored a cap during last summer's primary election.
But there are loopholes in the new Senate rule, like no limits on the number of gifts under $100 and few limits on free trips.
"If they want to call that real reform, I've got some ocean front property in a place called Blue Ridge; I'll be glad to take 'em this afternoon and show 'em," scoffed House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge).
After years of resisting caps and calling transparency good enough, Rep. Ralston called the Senate move a "publicity stunt".
He said the House is prepared to go the Senate one better.
The new Senate rule doesn't apply to him or to other State House members, but he's promising to introduce a tough new ethics bill later this week that would apply to all lawmakers and all lobbyists.
It's a total gift ban.
"Our bill will have a prohibition on spending on individual members of the General Assembly by registered lobbyists, period," he added.
William Perry of Georgia Common Cause supports the new Senate $100 gift ban.
He also said he looks forward to seeing House Speaker Ralston's tougher bill.
"We're looking forward to seeing what he produces because, throw us in the briar patch; you don't want $100, you want it to be zero? We're not gonna fight that," Perry added.
So now after years of resisting change, the race is on to see whose new ethics reform is tougher and which one contains the fewest loopholes.