A ban on lobbyist gifts should not be limited to state lawmakers, he said.
What irks the Powder Springs Republican about the current debate on government transparency is a failure to recognize how far the Georgia Legislature has come from when he was first elected in 1988.
“When I first got there, the Henry Grady Hotel was just winding down,” he said. “That was the hangout where everybody — legislators, press, lobbyists — that was ‘Sodom on Peachtree.’ Deals. Hookers. It was all there. It was a whole different world.”
Until Republicans took over the House, there were few ethics laws in place, Ehrhart said.
“I’m thrilled with transparency and disclosure,” he said. “What I don’t like about this current push is the specificity on the legislative branch of government. I would submit that in the scheme of transparency and disclosures, the state legislative members have a significant amount more than any other elected official, county commissioner — you cover all these, cities. There’s no scrutiny there.”
For example, Ehrhart said he loves the irony of Common Cause Georgia, a nonpartisan lobbying group, having attorney Emmet Bondurant on its board.
“His firm probably gives more money to the judges in their races that his firm practices in front of — that’s a scandal out there. You want to talk about a conflict of interest, go look at how many lawyers and law firms give to the judges they practice in front of,” Ehrhart said.
Lobbying influence extends to other arenas as well, he said.
“Go stand outside the (Georgia Municipal Association) convention in Savannah, and stand in the hotel about 5:45 before dinner and watch whole city councils come and all the little vendors are in there getting ready to take them to dinner at every restaurant. None of that’s disclosed,” he said.
Ehrhart said he would provide an amendment to any bill that comes before the House this session addressing gifts to legislators.
“If you live in a community and you ride with somebody that makes a decision in the health department, they need to disclose the gas that they spent on you,” he said. “If we’re going to say my soul can be bought, we’re going to go across the board. If transparency is good for this goose, there’s a heck of a lot of gander.”
Another topic expected to come up in the legislature this year is that of the hospital provider fee renewal.
Ehrhart said he’s willing to negotiate on that one if the hospitals will agree to do away with the “competition-stifling, monopoly-creating” regulation known as “Certificate of Need.”
“Every time one of the big hospitals (wants to expand), all the other ones make them spend three years and a $100 million on lawyers to be able to open some new center,” Ehrhart said. “Supposedly the concept behind CON is that you have to ration the health care and there would be too much and nobody would do it. Let the market decide it. If you want me to vote for this bed tax, get rid of CON. It’s a way to stifle competition. It gives you a great monopoly.”
Another area Cobb legislators are targeting this year is a method for collecting sales taxes.
On Tuesday, the Cobb Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt a resolution requesting legislative action to permit a special purpose local option sales tax at a fraction of a percent.
State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) cosponsored legislation for a fractional SPLOST last year, but it was never approved. Hill said he plans to try again this session. From the House end, state Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb) said he’s looking into filing a similar bill.
While Gov. Nathan Deal has reportedly said he’s not interested in addressing the topic of gun reform, state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) said it will come up anyway.
“The bottom line is it’s going to be debated in some way, shape or form,” Thompson said. “I tend to think the federal government ought to take action in that way.”
Thompson referenced the gun bills pre-filed by state Rep.-elect Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw).
“The young boy that was elected, Gregory, I agree with him on a couple of things, but on the gun thing there’s a part he wants to take out about the governor having powers in an emergency and bio terrorism and terrorism itself, and what you’re going to do is put the public at odds with the National Guard,” Thompson said. “So you got to think these things through. Trust me, I was as guilty as any other young person down there when it came to introducing everything that I thought was a good idea. So I try to think about these things before I introduce them now.”