Georgia Senate leaders have filed a proposed rule to ban the lieutenant governor and senators from taking chamber-funded out-of-state trips near the end of their terms in office.
It’s unclear when Senate Resolution 334 — sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, R-Macon — will get a vote in the chamber, but it is expected to come before the General Assembly ends its 2023 session later this month.
The proposed policy comes out of an internal investigation after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February that outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and then-Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller led a 14-person delegation on an economic development trip to Germany and the United Kingdom after the 2022 elections. The two were weeks away from leaving office.
The group made the trip from Nov. 12 to 19 as part of a Senate Study Committee on Economic Development and International Relations. The legislation creating the committee was filed and passed by the Georgia Senate at the end of the 2022 session, and the panel was chaired by Miller.
Despite efforts by the General Assembly to initially hide the cost, the AJC found that it cost taxpayers about $110,000. Among the expenses: The state paid for two Department of Public Safety officers to go on the trip as Duncan’s “executive security” protection.
After the AJC story ran, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Kennedy called for an investigation into how taxpayers wound up paying for the trip.
A report from the investigation said the trip had “the appearance of nothing more than a taxpayer-funded vacation” for Duncan and Miller.
It also said Miller, who lost to Jones in the May 2022 GOP primary for lieutenant governor, chaired a committee of Senate leaders that was supposed to approve any taxpayer-funded out-of-state travel. It said committee policy prohibited using Senate funds for international travel, and that limits were placed on how much could be spent on out-of-state travel that were exceeded by the European trip.
The report said changes should be made in how the chamber spends and accounts for the millions of dollars it receives in taxpayer funds.
The General Assembly has a budget this year of roughly $53 million, but it also has exempted itself from the Open Records Act, so it doesn’t have to disclose how it spends that money.
Senate leaders said as of April 1, all out-of-state travel expenses paid for using funds appropriated to the Senate and Jones’ office should be itemized and posted on the Senate’s website (https://www.legis.ga.gov/senate) at the end of each month. Jones and Kennedy said they would seek approval of the change at the next meeting of the chamber’s Administrative Affairs Committee.
The rule change in SR 334 would ban out-of-state travel paid for with Senate funds within six months of a lieutenant governor or senator leaving office, or after they lose a primary or general election.
Senate staff would also be banned from international travel paid for by the Senate.
According to a report compiled by Duncan’s office and signed by Miller, the group met with government and business officials, toured company headquarters, studios, training schools and other facilities, and attended receptions.
Among the 14 people listed as attending, according to emails, were Duncan, Miller, states Sens. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, Emanuel Jones, D-Ellenwood, Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, and Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, two members of Duncan’s security detail and Andrew Allison, the head of the Senate Press Office who left state government a little more than a month later for another job. Dixon, Jones, Halpern and Rahman all returned to the Senate this year.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller led a 14-person delegation on an economic development trip to Europe in November, just before they left office. After the AJC’s report, new Senate leaders called for an investigation. The AJC used Open Records Act requests and sourcing to find out how much the trip cost taxpayers after the General Assembly’s lawyers refused to disclose the information. Earlier this month, Senate leaders released their findings, and late Tuesday they filed a resolution banning such Senate-funded travel.
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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC