Feb. 5, 2013 — How soon they forget. Georgia tried once before to charge hundreds of dollars for citizens to lobby state legislators, and a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. In 1995, U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob held that a $200 fee for union members violated their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.
If I didn’t know better, I’d be outraged by the allegedly shameful and irresponsible conduct of the Center for Public Integrity, called to our attention Thursday in the AJC. But I do know better, so please allow me to explain how Rick Thompson’s opinion piece ignored CPI’s findings about Georgia’s limp anti-corruption laws while building a straw man that could easily be ripped apart.
Georgia’s foster children are being over-medicated, often to sedate them or control their behavior rather than treat a medical condition, a new study confirms. The question is: What should Georgia do about it? State legislators are considering oversight that would include written standards for dosages and independent reviews of prescriptions twice a year. But some child psychiatrists, worried about second-guessing and potentially lengthy delays in treatment, object to pre-authorization of certain medications and a requirement that children 14 and older give their informed consent.
Sen. Don Balfour in 2011 spent more than $29,000 given to him by political supporters to rent a downtown Atlanta condo that he could use year-round. For eight-plus months of the year, though, records indicate he drove home to Snellville, rather than stay in the condo, on each of the 103 days that he worked on public business. Most of those days were charged to a committee — Rules — that never met.
State legislators say they welcome transparency regarding their personal finances — corporate and real estate holdings, government contracts and the like.But who decides what constitutes transparency? Who checks whether they’re telling us all that we’re entitled to know? They do. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, transparency is too important to be left to the politicians.
Last week, both the Los Angeles Times and The Nation put the spotlight on a little-known but influential conservative nonprofit that creates “model” state legislation that often make its way into law. The American Legislative Exchange Council has helped craft some of the most controversial — and industry-friendly — legislation of recent years.
House Speaker David Ralston, for the first time in five years, has disclosed his wife’s ownership of an undeveloped 10-acre tract in Dawson County. The speaker, who last week added the property to his financial disclosures, said he’d simply forgotten. What he still hasn’t reported is the more than $1 million he’s borrowed, using collateral that’s valued at less than half that much.
After getting the silent treatment for nearly a year, the Fulton County Ethics Board wants Commissioner Lynne Riley to answer charges that she’s not acting in the best interest of county citizens.
A combative Eugene Walker on Monday talked the DeKalb County school board into holding off on discussing a proposed ethics code for board members. State Rep. Kevin Levitas last month proposed a state law giving the DeKalb board “a clear set of principles” to follow. Walker, who resigned as chairman of the DeKalb Development Authority this year after controversy over his role there, said Levitas’ proosal “offended” him. “We oughta throw it in the trash,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anything about it.”
No vote has been taken, but MARTA appears close to signing off on state Sen. Doug Stoner‘s job with a key contractor, the engineering firm of PBS&J. Several MARTA officials say there’s no conflict, because PBS&J got the contract before it hired Stoner, who serves on the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee.
MARTA hired a lobbyist Tuesday, moments after a union official accused state Rep. Jill Chambers of trying to force a state takeover of the agency. MARTA’s board fears a projected $80 million deficit will result in disastrous service cuts without state relief. “If we don’t get something done, a year from now we’re not going to be providing anything you could reasonably call transit service,” Chairman Michael Walls said. UPDATE: New lobbyist Bernard Reynolds will have to earn his keep, judging from Chambers’ latest e-mail today.
Eleven state legislators have filed their 2008 financial disclosures since we pointed out Monday that they had missed the July 1 deadline. Good job, guys. That’s 11 down and 26 to go. The latest filers include state Sen. Ralph Hudgens (right), now a candidate for Georgia insurance commissioner.