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YARBROUGH: Speaker Ralston discusses proposed ethics legislation

Dick Yarbrough

Dick Yarbrough

Are you sitting down? I had a meeting with House Speaker David Ralston last week at the Capitol. Got your breath yet? There's more. It was a good meeting.

Several of our mutual friends had been trying for some time to get the speaker and me together, saying we might have more in common than not. Had I been running the speaker's business, the meeting would have occurred long before now.

Some of our intrepid public servants don't seem to understand that ignoring the media is a bad strategy. Ignoring me is even worse. You present me an information void and I will fill that sucker up with my opinions faster than you can say "sine die."

While Ralston and I may have a lot in common in the eyes of our mutual friends, we have been far apart on the matter of lobbyist expenditures. He had deemed as satisfactory the current system of unlimited spending by lobbyists and reporting those expenditures after the fact on the Ethics Commission website. He has changed his mind and has a proposal that would alter significantly the cozy lobbying environment under the Gold Dome. That was the purpose of our meeting.

If I was looking for a pompous, thin-skinned, self-important politician ready to kick my fanny over my seemingly incessant sarcastic comments on the subject, I was to be surprised. David Ralston was affable and relaxed and even cracked a joke or two about "lizard-loafered lobbyists." Whew!

The speaker said when you spoke your concerns about lobbying limits during the recent elections, he heard you. Smart move. More than 80 percent of you said you wanted to see the cozy relationship between legislators and lobbyists changed. That, he said, is what he is trying to do.

Ralston said his bill is in no way an attempt to throttle free speech as some have claimed. He quickly revised his proposal after hearing complaints that the measure would discourage individuals from coming to the Capitol to express their personal views. Now, the focus is on those who represent organizations -- volunteers and lobbyists -- that spend more than five days a year advocating for or against an issue. They would have to pay a $25 fee and file disclosure reports.

One legislator told me that when someone comes into his office -- paid or unpaid -- and tells him how many members they represent and how many live in his district and suggests strongly that it would be in the legislator's interest to vote their way -- that is a lobbyist, pure and simple. I agree.

Ralston believes some are trying to obfuscate the spirit of the legislation by railing -- my words, not his -- about stifling freedom of speech and miss the bigger and more important pieces, such as a complete ban on lobbyist expenditures on individual legislators -- meals, tickets to athletic events, concerts and other entertainment. There is an exception that would allow reimbursement for travel to conferences (no golf) and food and beverage at events for committees or for all members of the House and Senate.

Near and dear to my heart is restoring rule-making authority to the Georgia Government Transparency and (inhale) Campaign Finance Commission, better known to We the Unwashed as the State Ethics Commission. I was a member of the commission for five years. The commission deserves more respect than it has gotten from petty politicians in the past that resented the group for enforcing the ethics laws (such as they were) and tried to make it irrelevant. This bill will bring some integrity back to the process and that fact doesn't need to get lost in the controversy over who pays and who doesn't.

I would suggest that those yelling about being asked to play the lobbying game on a level playing field stifle their self-interests long enough to push for the significant and positive changes contained in this bill.

While the speaker's proposal isn't perfect, it is a good start in the right direction. The bill is certainly better than the State Senate rule that caps lobbyist expenditures at $100 and has more holes in it than my favorite sweater.

To his credit, Ralston has gotten the message he had, up to this time, chosen to ignore. I am glad our mutual friends got us together and that I heard his views firsthand. I don't think we are ready to exchange Christmas cards yet, but at least we are on speaking terms. That's a good start.

Email columnist Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/dickyarbrough.

Comments

JimmyOrr 1 year, 2 months ago

Dick, I would not have believed it if I had not read it in today's GDP. The "it" being your meeting with Mr. Speaker. I admire you two for getting together. A good rule of thumb is that you don't mess with folks who buy ink by the barrel or newsprint by the ton, nor do you mess with folks who have access to same. That you and Mr. Speaker found common ground comes as no surprise to me. Dick, you could find common ground with a gathering of eskimos. I sure wish I had known you were meeting with Mr. Speaker. I would have asked you a favor. I would have asked you to please ask Mr. Speaker that when Ways & Means gets through with House Bill 159 to send it to the shredder. Bad piece of legislation. Should never make it to the floor of either body of our GA General Assembly for a vote. Saw Dr. Ben Carson on TV last (Friday) evening. He spoke of the virtual school technology just like we have here in Gwinnett County. Know you maintain a busy schedule but I would appreciate your contacting the Gwinnett on-line campus at 770-453-2086 and arrange for a visit. You will be glad that you did. I guarantee it.

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R 1 year, 2 months ago

Honorable Mr Orr :

On many subjects that concern local governance, you have offered valid points in the past, however in the case referring to HB 159 you seem out of sorts and off your game.

HB 159 is a one page bill that quite frankly puts the kybosh on things such as the item linked below. It doesn’t drive up citizen cost as the covered services expense remains the same, but it does require taxes to be taxes. That notion seems to fall quite nicely within the ethics reform minded of the great unwashed multitude which reside outside the Dome. Why even Dick Yarbrough may choose to weigh in on it himself some time.

HB 159 status detail link

http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20132014/HB/159

HB 159 bill text PDF link

http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20132014/129227.pdf

It’s time we begin to call things what they are if there is to be any future hope in moving our state, and for that matter our nation, in the right direction.

(Here’s where the unsuspecting may need a bit of a refresher course on – is that fee service really worth losing your property? whatever that may be )

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ga-supreme-court/1315506.html

BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF ATKINSON COUNTY v. GUTHRIE et al. (two cases). S00A1164. S00A1695.

Manley R. Gillis, Douglas, for appellant.Sutton & Associates, Berrien L. Sutton, Josephine E. Graddy, Homerville, for appellees.

In March 1999, the board adopted an ordinance requiring owners of rental property to pay the garbage collection fees for their rental property. The ordinance was enacted because the authority had difficulty collecting fees from tenants of rental property. It provides that the owner of rental property shall be responsible for paying the garbage collection fee for the rental property or rental unit. If fees are not paid, a lien is imposed against the property; after 90 days the board chairman is authorized to issue an execution for the levy and sale of the property as provided by law. The execution shall be recorded in the general execution docket in the superior court clerk's office and advertised in the county's legal organ.

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ptm4936 1 year, 1 month ago

Not surprised that you found the Speaker to be affable and relaxed. Disappointing that your column continues to be an incessant stream of sarcasm in spite of your meeting.

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