Even with fix, Speaker Ralston’s lobbyist bill a ‘First Amendment tax’
by Don McKee
Columnist
February 08, 2013 12:25 AM | 747 views | 1 1 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
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Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is trying to fix his lobbying “reform” bill, but he has a long way to go to get rid of the unacceptable anti-freedom-of-speech provisions of HB 142.

Ralston’s revised version, according to news reports, would not force citizens who lobby at the Capitol to register as lobbyists — unless they did so for more than five days during a calendar year. But obviously if citizens need to visit the Gold Dome six days a year or more trying to influence legislators then the requirement for registering as lobbyists kicks in.

It’s clear from Ralston’s bill and his comments that he has a major problem with citizens visiting their Capitol — not his Capitol or the General Assembly’s — to talk with legislators about whatever issues that concern good citizens.

The Speaker spelled out his problem in explaining his original proposal that would have defined anyone volunteering services in trying to influence any elected official in the state as a lobbyist, required to register, pay a fee and file expense reports with the state ethics commission.

Ralston said he never intended to make Georgians pay a fee to visit with their own legislators “or if they come on a limited basis.”

The Speaker wants to set the limit at five days for citizens of this state to visit their Capitol and talk with their legislators about legislative issues.

That is unheard of, out of bounds, over the top and all too indicative of the disdain and annoyance with which David Ralston looks upon citizens of Georgia interested enough in their government to show up at the Capitol more than five days in a year!

Ralston did remove local officials from the bill’s ban on lobbyist gifts, but according to news reports, he said there still might be restrictions imposed on local lobbying, no details given.

He also cut the current $300 lobbyist registration fee to a mere $25.

He acknowledged he changed the bill because of criticism that it would require citizens to register as lobbyists if they went to the Capitol and tried to influence any senators or representatives other than those in their own districts.

Predictably, Ralston’s revisions to HB 142 got a unanimous vote in a subcommittee, sending it to the Rules Committee, which serves as the Speaker’s rubber stamp.

So look for it to be approved by the committee and sent to the floor where only the bravest few members dare oppose the all-powerful Speaker.

And despite Ralston’s attempt to make his poison pill palatable to the people, the revised bill is — as grassroots ethics reform advocates labeled the original measure — a “First Amendment tax.”

The good citizens of Georgia need to increase the heat on Ralston and members of the House to fix HB 142 by common sense measures, starting with a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators – individually and collectively, period. Instead of limiting citizen rights, the Georgia House needs to put limits on the Speaker it elected.

dmckee9613@aol.com
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Bill Evelyn
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February 09, 2013
Speaker Ralston is confused as usual.

The sovereign people of Georgia established this legislature and government. We agreed to and ratified the Constitution of Georgia. The politicians were elected to protect us by paying deference to the Constitution we put into effect.

The Georgia Bill of Rights - Article 1, Section 1, Paragraph V. "Freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed. No law shall be passed to curtail or restrain the freedom of speech or of the press. Every person may speak, write, and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that liberty."

Any Bill coming from this legislature which impedes or hampers free speech of the sovereign citizens of Georgia is a violation of the Georgia Constitution. These Bills should not seek to label and group citizens as lobbyists or activists, it should seek to prevent elected representatives from taking Lobbyist bribes. You should not restrict or hamper Lobbyists from pushing their agendas, you should restrict elected politicians from taking bribes from those Lobbyists.
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