Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, left, meets with lawmakers on the Senate Floor during a debate on a proposed lobbying cap resolution on the opening day of the Georgia Legislative session, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Atlanta. Georgia state senators cannot accept gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists under a new chamber rule, but it contains major loopholes. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
ATLANTA -- Legislators kicked off the Georgia General Assembly Monday with the first of what could be many fights over ethics reform during the 2013-2014 session.
Senators signaled they would move on reforms with the adoption of their rules, self-imposing a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists.
"The state Senate is taking the lead on ethics reform," Majority Leader Ronnie Chance said. "We have listened not only to our colleagues but to the citizens of Georgia ... as we move forward from Day 1."
But with a move to "engross" -- or not allow amendments to be considered -- some lawmakers objected, with Sen. Vincent Fort calling the move "nearly hubris."
"They violated their oath within 20 minutes of pledging it," said Sen. Mike Crane, calling out his own party for refusing to hear amendments. Crane wanted to amend provisions that returned power to the lieutenant governor to name committees and control the flow of legislation, which had been stripped two years ago.
While Minority Leader Steve Henson, who represents a portion of Gwinnett, said the provision was a good first step, Fort, his colleague in the Democratic party, said there were too many loopholes, including an exemption on the cap for travel expenses. The rules also could allow multiple gifts of below $100 and allow gifts above the threshold to groups, like committees and subcommittees.
He said the move was "fraught with irony," since amendments were curtailed. "At the core of ethics is openness and transparency," he said. "We should not vote yes on this bill because someone is telling you we will do better next time."
But the rule did get accolades from Sen. Josh McKoon, the Columbus Republican who lead a bus tour last year focusing on reform. His proposal to cap lobbyists gifts received tremendous support from voters through a non-binding referendum last summer.
"This decisive action reflects a culture of change under the Gold Dome and brings us one step closer to restoring the public's trust," McKoon said at a press conference after the vote.
Shortly after lawmakers were sworn into new terms, Duluth Sen. David Shafer was officially named the Senate president pro tem.
At a time when ethics are one of the biggest matters on the lawmakers' minds, Shafer used his acceptance speech to warn his colleagues against catering to lobbyists.
He joked that he had not won a single award for the 15 years between college and his election to the Senate. Then, the awards came swiftly.
"This is a great temple of flattery," he said. "We need to be careful not to play to flattery and praise and attention ... Because this is a sacred place where important decisions are made."