Senate places ethics requirement on local governments

The State Senate voted 46-0 this morning to require local governments to create ethics panels to hear citizen complaints.

Under Senate Bill 372, the panels would have subpoena powers, and could impose up to a $1,000 fine for each violation of ethics law. They could impose the same fine against those who bring frivolous or unfounded complaints.

The bill also tightens requirements for professional lobbyists. Paid lobbyists who frequent the Capitol, but may not be advocating or opposing a particular piece of legislation, would be required to file disclosures of the money they spent on legislators.

“Right now, if you’re just wining and dining, building a relationship, you don’t have to disclose anything,” said Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This fixes that.”

The bill also requires registered lobbyists to complete a professional training course on ethics law.

Johnson said the bill has the support of the Georgia Municipal Association, but he had heard from other senators that lobbyists for local school boards and county governments were opposed.

“They’re talking about unfunded mandates, but [an ethics panel] doesn’t have to cost anything,” he said. “You could use existing staff.”

The bill requires an ethics panel, but lets the local government decide how it should be staffed and structured, he said.

The bill now goes to the House.