Georgia lawmakers have wasted little time this year pushing for limits on lobbyist gifts.
As the General Assembly got under way last week, the state Senate set a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts to its members. Legislators’ first day also saw the filing of Senate Bill 36, which if passed would enact an even wider ban on lobbyist gifts. A copy of the legislation is attached to this article.
The bill, which is sponsored by State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, and State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, would prohibit any gift from a lobbyist to a public officer in the state. According to Heath, current state law defines a gift as something with a value in excess of $100.
The Senate rule passed before SB 36’s filing is not without its loopholes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its report on the Senate’s gift cap notes that even under the rule, gifts worth more than $100 could be made to an entire committee or subcommittee. And the cap does not apply to family members or Senate staffers.
The AJC’s “Political Insider,” Jim Galloway, says there is a “fundamental situation” amid the moves to limit lobbyist gifts—a low legislator pay rate. He reports that the state’s lawmakers earn $17,342 a year before their per diem, which brings their pay to about $24,000 annually.
“We need to start paying a decent salary to these 236 lawmakers sent to Atlanta each year,” Galloway said.
One argument supporting higher legislator pay, Galloway adds, ties into the gift issue: If lawmakers earned more, they “would be less likely to feel entitled to the free meals, booze, and tickets to concerts and football games” given by lobbyists.
Is a law limiting lobbyist gifts to public officials necessary? Would a law banning such gifts be successful in making government more ethical?
Would increasing legislator pay make lawmakers less likely to accept gifts? Should state leaders consider a pay bump, or should they look at other changes first?
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