Nonpartisan Election Bill, Lobbyist Caps Kick Off General Assembly

11:05 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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Georgia's elected officials kicked off the 2013 General Assembly session in Atlanta Monday morning.

The Senate affirmed David Shafer as the President Pro Tempore, Ronnie Chance as Majority Leader, and Macon's own Cecil Staton retained his position as Majority Whip.

On the House side, Representative David Ralston kept his spot as Speaker. Jan Jones will continue as Speaker Pro Tempore, and State Representative Larry O'Neal from Warner Robins remains Majority Leader.

Both chambers got straight to business after their swearing in. Staton dropped eight bills before noon, most of them calling for local nonpartisan elections.

He says, "I've heard from my constituents. I think it's what they want. It's what they expect, what they believe will be the best for our community moving forward under the consolidated government. So I hope we get a lot of support back home for these measures. I hope we'll get the requisite support we need in the delegation as well to get this passed very very quickly."

Other lawmakers, like Representative Nikki Randall, oppose nonpartisan elections.

"I think it's bad timing in Macon and middle Georgia," says Randall. "I think we just adopted a huge measure in the consolidation charter and it included partisan elections. If the people didn't want partisan elections, they would not have overwhelmingly supported that measure. So, I think it's really bad timing. I think it sends a negative message to the general public that just voted on partisan elections. Unfortunately, I'm a Democrat and I'm in the minority and they do have the numbers to get this measure passed."

Staton also filed a bill that would officially do away with Payne City. That's the tiny city in the middle of Macon with a population of about 220. As part of Macon Bibb consolidation, Payne City would just blend into the rest of the county.

Meanwhile, Senators adopted a rule to put a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists.

Since it's a rule instead of a law, it doesn't apply to members of the House of Representatives, the Governor, or Lieutenant Governor.

It passed by a 42 to 12 vote.
 
Those who opposed it, like Senator David Lucas, say there were too many loopholes.

"You can go five days and take $99 a day and not violate the ethics, or you can go abroad out of the country and your whole family's paid for and that does not count. So, I feel like we need to amend that particular portion of it but we engrossed it where you could not amend it," says Lucas.

On Wednesday is the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, and on Thursday, Governor Nathan Deal is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

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