Legislature opens with a Senate fight over power, ethicsBy Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Monday’s opening of the 2013 legislative session sparked the first hot debate moments after the ceremonial swearing-in as the Senate adopted a set of rules that empowers the lieutenant governor and bans gifts above $100.
Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, offered an amendment to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s ability to appoint senators to committees and decide which committees consider bills. Crane was blocked when the Senate voted to prohibit any changes to the proposed rules, which eventually passed 42-12.
Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, warned that giving the power to Cagle was unconstitutional since the lieutenant governor is a member of the executive branch.
“Don’t give one person absolute power, even if you think he’s a good person,” said Williams, who had led a group of senators two years ago in taking the power away from Cagle and giving it to a committee of eight senators.
Cagle, meeting with reporters afterward, would say only that he’s looking forward to a successful session and stressing the significance of the prohibition on gifts from lobbyists.
“I think it sends a strong message to the citizens of Georgia that the Senate is serious about its ethics and the accountability that comes with it,” he said.
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, dismissed the Senate gift rule as a publicity stunt.
“If they want to call that real reform, I’ve got some oceanfront property in a place called Blue Ridge I’ll be glad to take them this afternoon to sell them,” he said.
The speaker renewed his commitment to introduce a House bill that outlaws all gifts on all legislators. He also said he still believes such a ban is unnecessary as long as the gifts are disclosed in government reports but that he’s supporting the bill because the voters demonstrated in the July straw poll that they want it.
Ralston and House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton, were re-elected without Democratic opposition while the Senate Republicans were fighting among themselves.