State lawmakers reportedly have worked out an 11th-hour ethics deal capping lobbyist gifts at $75 and eliminating lobbying registration for volunteer advocates.
Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said Thursday morning both the House and Senate made compromises to make the deal happen.
While details of the agreement have yet to be made public, Mullis said lobbyists will be allowed to give lawmakers gifts up to $75 — down from the $100 cap proposed by the Senate but a major concession from the House’s position that individual gifts be banned, albeit with numerous exceptions.
Exemptions to the $75 cap would be committee dinners (reportedly, limited to one dinner per year), dinners for caucuses and lobbyist-funded travel, with some limitations. Meals for local delegations — which could be as small as a single legislator — reportedly are not included.
Several sources confirm Gov. Nathan Deal was involved in encouraging the two sides to find a compromise, which eventually was struck after midnight Thursday morning.
As part of the deal volunteers would not have to register as lobbyists unless they are reimbursed for $250 or more in expenses from an organization. The House pushed hard to expand lobbyist registration, angering advocates who had agitated for gift limits.
Six lawmakers — three from each chamber — were assigned to work out differences in House Bill 142, the bill sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. The conference committee never met publicly, but individual members met privately over the week in an attempt to work out an agreement.
House Republicans were briefed on the deal at a closed-door caucus meeting on Thursday morning. House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey said he believes both chambers will strike a deal on the proposal by midnight Thursday, when the 40-day session ends.
“It’s as close as you can get on ethics and we’re not too far on guns,” said Lindsey, who declined to discuss specifics. “I’m not sure there is a sticking point on ethics and there’s a broad agreement on guns, too. We just need to get it on paper.”
If the bill passes today it will make the first time lawmakers have agreed to limit the gifts, meals, tickets and other favors they receive from special interests. Such gifts already are down sharply as advocates have pushed for reform.
The deal comes on the 40th and last day of the legislative session and most rank-and-file members have yet to see it. If it does not pass today, reform will have to wait another year.