Addressing the immediate problem of no limits on the amount of money that lobbyists can spend on legislators, state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), is proposing that lobbyists be limited to spending $100 on legislators on any single occasion.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver has proposed an even lower limit, setting a single-occasion spending ceiling of $25.
Taking a run at another issue arguably more problematic than lobbyists' spending, Oliver and other lawmakers are proposing some lowering of the limits on campaign donations by individuals, corporations and political organizations. Their bill would cut the limits by a few thousand dollars.
Yet another measure aimed at ensuring ethical behavior from lawmakers comes from state Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna). Teilhet's bill would take investigation and prosecution of ethics complaints out of the legislature, placing that responsibility with the State Ethics Commission. Teilhet's proposal also would switch the power of appointing Ethics Commission members from the governor and the legislature to the Georgia Supreme Court.
While these bills have a long way to go before coming to a vote in some form, and then being signed into law by the governor, it's probably safe to assume that these, and any similar measures, are likely to get a full hearing from lawmakers, many of whom are standing for re-election later this year.
And while these legislative proposals and the likely serious hearing they'll get in the House and Senate are a clear and welcome sign that state legislators are cognizant of the need to rein themselves in, there is a more immediate issue that could signal, long before any final action on the legislative proposals outlined here, exactly how serious the members of the Georgia General Assembly are about setting standards for themselves and adhering to those standards.
As was reported in media outlets across the state, a number of state House and Senate members - some reports put the number in the vicinity of a dozen, which would represent roughly 5 percent of the 236-member General Assembly - were notified earlier this month that the state Revenue Department has no record that they either filed a tax return or paid taxes for 2008.
Under terms of state law, the potentially errant lawmakers have 30 days from the date of notification to explain themselves to the Revenue Department. When that 30-day period runs out, the taxpaying - or nontaxpaying, as the case might be - status of the legislators notified by state revenue officials is reported to the ethics committees in their respective legislative chambers for possible action. The sanctions that can be imposed on lawmakers who haven't paid their taxes can include expulsion from the Georgia General Assembly.
If it turns out that any legislator isn't meeting his fiscal obligation to the state, and can make no defensible case as to the nonpayment, his or her respective legislative chamber should take swift, and public, action to name and sanction the offending lawmaker. Anything less will cast real doubt as to whether lawmakers' widely stated commitment to ethics reform is credible.
Words, even when they appear in tough-minded ethics reform bills, are one thing. In the case of non-taxpaying lawmakers, only action will prove a real commitment to changing the way business is done in the Golden Dome.