Limits on government charge cards advance in Ga. House

Georgia lawmakers backed off a ban on elected officials using government charge cards Wednesday, but they want to require local leaders to set limits on purchasing cards before they can be issued.

The House Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the amended proposal that arose from allegations that DeKalb County officials’ had used their purchasing cards to buy personal items. P-cards are debit cards that draw funds from local governments.

The revised legislation would force county commissions, city council and school boards to vote on a P-card policy before the cards can be issued to elected officials. The P-card policy would have to include transaction limits, a description of purchases that are allowed and prohibited, an auditing process and penalties for abuse.

Misuse of P-cards undermines public confidence in elected officials, said Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, the sponsor of the legislation.

“That’s a blemish on all of us when someone is doing it wrong,” Powell told the committee. “This is something that could happen in any county. If you’re an elected official, the public has a right to know what they’re able to pay for expenses.”

Powell said he agreed not to seek a ban on P-cards because they serve a legitimate purpose in some jurisdictions where the mayor is responsible for making routine purchases. His bill was amended following advice from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, pushed for the provision forcing governments to vote before issuing P-cards.

“It gives people a heads-up that there’s a public decision to give this privilege to elected folks, and incorporated in that would be the assumption that they’re following the law,” she said.

Several DeKalb officials have been accused of using P-cards for personal purposes.

Former Commissioner Elaine Boyer pleaded guilty in September to federal fraud charges that said she used her P-card for personal airline trips and hotels. Ethics complaints relating to P-cards are pending against four remaining commissioners.

The legislation, House Bill 192, now advances to the House Rules Committee before coming to the full Georgia House of Representatives for a vote.

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