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Tackling ethics and roads
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As the Legislature mercifully enters the last week, the top two pieces of legislation of 2010 were passed and approved by both bodies.

After struggling for three years, a bill to give citizens the opportunity to increase funds for transportation was finally approved. The ethics legislation that passed made a number of changes pointing toward accounting and transparency, but probably falls short of the level of reform some had advocated.

Regional transportation sales tax plan
HB 277 creates 12 special tax districts along boundaries of regional commissions with all counties being required to participate. A statewide 1 percent sales tax referendum will be held during the 2012 general primary allowing citizens within a special district to vote on a specific list of district transportation projects; the tax would be limited to 10 years. The Georgia Department of Transportation director of planning, in coordination with local government officials, would initiate and assist with the development of each district’s strategic investment list. Local government officials would be charged with creating, reviewing, and approving their district’s investment list via “regional transportation roundtables.”  

If a district roundtable is unable to approve a project list for their citizens to vote on, a regional “gridlock” is declared, and local governments within that region would be subject to a 50 percent match requirement for transportation grants they receive from GDOT (set for two years). If the roundtable is able to approve a project list by majority vote, local governments in that region would reduce their match requirement from 50 percent to 30 percent (set for two years). If the citizens within a region approve the tax on the set list of projects, local governments within that region would reduce their match requirement from 30 percent to 10 percent.

A portion of each district’s revenues will be designated for discretionary use by local governments within the district, distributed to cities and counties by road miles and population (same as LARP formula). Citizens review panels, appointed by the speaker of the House and lieutenant governor, will be established in each district that levies the tax to monitor the progress being made and ensure the voter-approved projects are on-time and within budget. All proceeds of the tax must be used for the voter-approved projects, which may consist of transportation activities and purposes, including construction, maintenance, and operations.

Ethics reform
SB 17 replaces the State Ethics Commission with the newly created Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and introduces a number of requirements designed to strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws. This commission will be given jurisdiction over local governments and will enforce these new requirements as well.

Lobbyists will have to abide by the reporting requirements, including twice monthly reporting of expenditures during legislative session and reporting travel to meetings as expenditures. Also, anyone convicted of a felony within the last 10 years will be prohibited from registering as a lobbyist. Felons who register after 10 years must submit a statement detailing the date and nature of their conviction and their sentence.

SB 17 revises campaign finance regulations by requiring candidates to report any contribution or expenditure greater than $100, and gives the commission investigative and sanctioning power to enforce these new requirements with increased fines. The legislation also establishes tougher laws governing abuses of official power, conflicts of interest, and sexual harassment. A new, constitutional mechanism will replace the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee as the receiver of complaints against members. Additionally, public officers invited to speak in an official capacity will be limited to $100 for speaking fee or honorarium, and the practice of illegally using a state employee in a political campaign will now be considered improper conduct for which a complaint may be brought.

Future columns will cover the final budget and legislation approved in the final days.

If you would like information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly web site at and enter the specific bill number in the top right hand corner of your screen.  

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