Senate Ethics Committee passes first legislation

With the attention of ethics advocates focused squarely on the state House, the Senate Ethics Committee passed its first legislation Monday — but none of the bills related strictly to ethics reform.

Still, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is preaching patience for anyone worried about the committee’s deliberate pace. McKoon, who has led a push for ethics reform since taking office in 2011, said work continues behind the scenes to prepare for a fuller debate.

“You’ve got to think of this like a baseball game,” McKoon said. “This is like the third inning, and we’ve got a long way to go. I think all of us are watching the House and want to see what happens in that process. We’re just respecting how the legislative process works.”

That process right now is focused on House Bill 142, which as proposed by House Speaker David Ralston would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to state lawmakers. The Blue Ridge Republican, however, has had to change other aspects of the bill, including lowering a proposed lobbyist registration fee to $25 and making an exception for people who visit lawmakers just a few days a year.

The bill still needs a full vote by the House before senators can vet it. Until then, the chamber’s Ethics Committee is content to pass legislation such as it did Monday. Senate Bills 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 54 — all sponsored by Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler — would allow counties to decide whether some locally elected offices, including sheriffs and coroners, should be nonpartisan. The bills now go to the Senate Rules Committee.

Contentment, however, is not complacency. Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis took his own shot Monday at the House for criticism of new Senate rules capping lobbyists’ gifts at $100. “You have berated the Senate on its ethics rule, but we did that (first),” Mullis told Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna. “It was decisive.”