Legislators’ gift ban passes House

A bill that would almost completely ban lobbyists’ gifts to Georgia legislators has a slightly unpleasant side effect: anyone attempting to speak on behalf of another group of people more than five times a year — even if they are unpaid — would be classified as a lobbyist and will be required to register with the state and pay a $25 fee.

Despite that hindrance, House Bill 142 was approved Monday by the Georgia House of Representatives and will be taken up by the Senate later this session, most likely at the committee level first.

HB 142 specifically allows individuals to express their “personal views, interests or professional opinions” to legislators, but not on behalf of any group of people unless they register as lobbyists.

Although the original version of the bill was designed to apply to local municipal and county officials as well, that language has been stricken from the bill that passed the House. It will apply only to the legislative and executive branch on the state level.

While the new bill bans nearly all gifts to legislators, lobbyists will be allowed to reimburse legislators for “reasonable” food and beverage travel expenses — but not for airfare — “for attending educational, informational, charitable or civic functions” directly related to their duties in the legislature.

A loophole for expenditures will allow lobbyists to buy meals or tickets to sporting events or concerts for an entire committee of legislators at one time. Likewise, legislators will still be allowed to receive tickets to sports events hosted by any Georgia public university, provided that all legislators are also offered those tickets, according to the bill.

Lobbyists will still be required to file reports with the state indicating how much they spent on legislators. There is one exception, however, that would allow unpaid lobbyists to avoid filing spending reports: by signing an affidavit stating that he will not make any expenditures during the upcoming calendar year.

The legislation, proposed initially by House Speaker David Ralston, was in response to an overwhelming vote last year by citizens to limit lobbyists’ gifts to $100.