Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, held a press conference on the ethics rule the Senate passed this morning. He was joined by members of the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, which includes Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Conservatives in Action, Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Watch and the League of Women Voters in Georgia.
McKoon said it was a step toward comprehensive ethics reform. The cap of $100 is a rule, not a law, and only affects members of the Senate. The rule also makes it easier for residents to file complaints.
"The rubber starts hitting the road today," McKoon said. He also said he is working on legislation to change ethics laws for the entire legislature.
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has said the House will introduce its own package of ethics reforms. He is opposed to caps and has advocated an outright ban of gifts from lobbyists.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, in a news release applauded the Senate for passing the resolution.
"From the very beginning of my service at the Gold Dome, I have supported measures that promote government transparency and uphold the highest of ethical standards," Miller said. "In fact, I was one of only eight or nine legislators to sign last year’s $100 ethics bill. Incorporating the $100 gift cap into Senate rules today was a positive step toward restoring the public’s trust and increasing government accountability."
The state Senate voted to change its ethics laws and gave Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle a seat at the table again in the first resolution it passed this morning, the opening day of the 2013-2014 session.
The resolution limits gifts given by registered lobbyists to senators to a $100 value, but some members, such as Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the resolution is "full of loopholes."
Former member of the Senate leadership Sen. Tommie Williams also criticized the resolution for giving Cagle too much power over legislation. Williams said the lieutenant governor is a member of the executive branch, not the legislative branch.
The Senate adjourned until tomorrow morning.
The proposed ethics rules state that a gift includes anything of economic value for which no consideration is given and is unrelated to a senator’s nonpublic business or charitable activities. Exemptions from the $100 limit include awards, food and admission to an event to which all senators are invited.
Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, is opposed to Senate Resolution 1 because he says the rules are full of loopholes and "nearly useless"
Fort said it allows lobbyists to give gifts on multiple occasions on the same day.
In talking to his children about the dangers of giving one person too much power, Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said "Guys I want you to know that winning is not most important thing, being right is the most important thing."
Williams is opposed to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle having so much power to direct the flow of legislation.
"He doesn’t need to run the Senate," he said. "This is how we lose our freedoms, one little bit at a time"
Williams was president pro tem from 2011-2012 and was part of the leadership that took power away from Cagle during that time.
The motion to engross Senate Resolution 1 passed. They are now considering adopting the resolution.
The Senate is debating a motion to engross Senate Resolution 1, which means no amendments will be added and there will be an up-or-down vote.
John Long of Decatur was re-elected sergeant-at-arms.
The first Senate resolution has proposed a $100 cap on gifts from registered lobbyists. Gifts include awards, food, travel and lodging. Any complaints or alleged violations would go to the Senate Ethics Committee.
Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, has just been elected president pro tem of the Senate. He said the members all have the same goals, but "how we differ is how we’re going to achieve those goals. This is a sacred place where decisions are made to impact people’s lives."
He said he will do his very best and will give it (his job) his all.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has called for order in the Senate chamber. First order of business will be a devotion.
The Senate chamber is filling with senators, but also with family members and friends to kick off the start of the General Assembly session. Gainesville Sen. Butch Miller is expected to nominate the sergeant at arms as part of nominating positions this morning.
This story will be updated throughout today's start of the legislative session.