Ralston’s lobbyist bill would restrict Georgians’ freedom of speech
by Don McKee
February 04, 2013 12:53 AM | 1233 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
It’s almost incredible, but the so-called ethics reform bill introduced by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston would require lobbyist registration for citizens if they try to influence any public official outside their own district or territory.

That’s the import of Section 3 (i) of HB 142. It states that the lobbyist registration requirement “shall not apply to: (1.1) A natural person providing services pro bono publico in an attempt to influence the decision of a public officer elected by the people if such natural person resides in the district or territory from which such public officer is elected.”

In other words, a Georgia citizen could not try to influence any state senators or representatives other than those from that citizen’s own district without that citizen having to register as a lobbyist, pay an annual $300 fee and file lobbying reports with the state ethics commission.

Who ever heard of such a thing? The very idea of trying to penalize citizens for talking with the elected representatives from throughout the state is repulsive to the very essence of our democratic government. This says volumes about the attitude of David Ralston concerning the people of Georgia.

There’s another paragraph in the same section of HB 142 that seems to exempt from lobbyist registration citizens expressing personal views to local elected officials but not statewide officials. Section 3 (i) (1) says the registration requirement would not apply to: “(1) An individual who expresses personal views, on that individual’s own behalf, to any public officer other than a public officer who is elected statewide by the voters.” Ambiguous, but it’s another blow against freedom of speech.

And if that’s not enough to kill the bill, get a load of two other paragraphs in the same section of HB 142. Paragraph 4 would exempt from lobbyist registration anyone giving testimony before a public agency or committee hearing “but only when such person appears at the specific request of the governmental entity.” Paragraph 5 likewise would exempt anyone providing information to a governmental entity, including a legislative committee, “but only when such person furnishes such information at the specific request of the governmental entity.”

In other words, if a citizen has vital information for a state agency or legislative committee, it cannot be provided voluntarily without that citizen registering as a lobbyist.

The Ralston bill also would prohibit duly registered lobbyists from meeting with legislators at the Capitol or the Coverdell Legislative Office Building without the lobbyists wearing their official badges. Then there’s a weird prohibition in Section 4 (b) 1 (on the General Assembly website). It says: “No person who is registered or required to be registered as a lobbyist….shall make any expenditure.” If other provisions don’t render the bill unconstitutional, surely that one does.

Any elected official with such a terribly skewed view of the constitutional rights of the people has no credibility to represent the citizens of this state. The Georgia House should kill this bill and start over.

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