Session’s last day, night, inspired big spending on Georgia lawmakers

It didn’t take long for Bada Bings Sports Bar down the street from the Capitol to become jammed with lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists after the General Assembly was gaveled out for the year early on the morning of March 25.

Lobbyists spent about $3,000 0n post-session parties and “sine die fellowship” events after the General Assembly dragged on passing laws after its traditional midnight ending, or sine die, according to disclosures filed in recent days.

While several top lobbyists chipped in, the Metro Atlanta Chamber was listed as one of the biggest spenders on receptions on the final day and the day before. The chamber was a key player in several big issues this session, including the fight against a "religious liberty" bill that lawmakers approved but Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed.

The after-session parties aren’t what they used to be in the mid-2000s, when one finished with a lobbyist sending a colleague to Grady Memorial Hospital by hitting him over the head with a beer bottle. One lobbyist described this year’s Georgia House party as “very tame.”

In all, lobbyists reported spending about $40,000 on the last couple of days, and nights, mostly on meals to feed lawmakers and legislative staffers, and mostly at the Capitol.

Two of the busiest groups — busy with the credit cards — were the trial lawyers and State Bar of Georgia.

Both lawyer groups traditionally have a lot of work to do on the final day, when legislators negotiate and give final passage to dozens of bills.

Lobbyists for the Trial Lawyers Association and State Bar reported spending $900 on breakfast and dinner for Senate Republicans the day before the session ended. The Bar spent an additional $358 taking four lawyers-legislators — including House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard — and another legislator who works for the Trial Lawyers, out to dinner.

The next day the Trial Lawyers paid for some of the same lawmakers’ lunches.

The Bar in particular had a lot at stake on the last day: Lawmakers made a final call on Willard's legislation to clean house at Georgia's judicial watchdog agency. Willard's original bill would have stripped the State Bar, which has a pending investigation of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, of any say-so in appointments to the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

It's unclear how much good the last-minute lobbying did the Bar. The JQC bill won final passage early Friday, stripping the State Bar of any direct appointments to the agency.