The Senate voted 42-12 on Monday to accept that rule and others on the first day of the annual session.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb) said by adopting a rule change, as opposed to legislation, the restriction went into effect immediately for senators.
“I’m sure other pieces of legislation are going to come in general statute later in the year, but if they come they’ll be in committees, they’ll be adopted, and in all likelihood they’ll go into effect on July 1 of this year, but a senate rule will go into effect immediately, so this is a quicker way to put a $100 dollar gift cap on it,” Tippins said.
Voting in favor were senators Tippins, Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna), Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) and Barry Loudermilk (R-North Cobb). Voting against was Horacena Tate (D-South Cobb).
Thompson said although he voted for the rule change, it has some serious loopholes that need to be plugged.
“The one thing my side didn’t like is it didn’t really fix the thing a lobbyist could spend $100 dollars 12 times,” Thompson said. “In other words, he wasn’t limited to once in a year. They didn’t make it specific that you could only do that once in a calendar year.”
Thompson said the only reason he voted for the rule change was a pledge he received from Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, who promised to revisit the loophole if the Senate takes up a law governing the cap.
Hunter Hill, who ousted Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) in last year’s election, said the rule change makes things better than they were.
“It used to be that there was no limits, period,” Hunter Hill said. “Had it been an outright gift ban I would have voted yes on that too. But this was a good bipartisan effort. The minority leader of the senate cosponsored this legislation along with the president of the senate and the majority leader, so it was a unified effort on dealing with this issue in our rules as opposed to waiting for legislation.”
On the topic of whether or not to authorize $300 million in hotel tax collections to help build a $1 billion stadium in which to house the Atlanta Falcons, Tippins, Thompson and Hill say they are undecided.
Tippins expressed the most skepticism of the three.
“If the state is going to incur $300 million on bonded indebtedness, I would rather see it go into infrastructure projects that I feel like would probably do more in terms of better economic development for the state,” Tippins said.
The argument, Tippins said, is whether or not the Georgia Dome is able to continue to fulfill the purpose for which it was built.
“It’s a business decision,” he said. “Is it time to replace it, or does it still have usable life that the state can still capitalize on in light of the original investment? Personally, I don’t see the need to replace it right now. Obviously, the Falcons are doing great in the Dome. That’s kind of like talking about a new school building you’re going to get a better educational outcome. The best way you can build an economic engine for sports, I’m not sure it’s the building they’re playing in. If you got a winning team, the winning team is going to do more for economic growth and economic vitality in the city that it’s located than the venue that they happen to be playing in.”
Hunter Hill said he wanted to perform a cost-benefit analysis before deciding what to do.
“In a time when there are economic challenges like we face it’s a hard sell, however, when you drill down to the finances of it, it actually adds up to be a lucrative deal for tax payers,” he said. “It’s a tough sell politically, but it can actually make some sense if you’re willing to dig down into the finances.”
Lawmakers may receive a pass from having to vote on whether to extend the bed tax. A proposal by Gov. Nathan Deal could move the responsibility from the General Assembly to having the Department of Community Health issue the fee.
Thompson said he voted against the bed tax the first time around.
“It’s a sick tax. Who do you think’s paying for it? It’s not the hospitals. It’s the patient,” Thompson said.
As for switching the decision on whether to renew the tax from the lawmakers to a state bureaucracy, Thompson said he didn’t know whether that was being done to help lawmakers who had signed Grover Norquist’s no tax increase pledge.
“I don’t know whether it’s Grover Norquist or whether it’s a situation where he just takes the General Assembly off the hook from having to answer the question,” Thompson said. “The bottom-line is I don’t think most times the General Assembly ought to give their authority away because that’s the way you keep the internal part of government that goes on itself sometimes in check with the folks elected. I’m not sure I like that. It looks like you’re sidestepping the process.”