House panel backs relaxed lobbyist rules, trims fee to $25
By JIM WALLS
Feb. 7, 2013 — In response to activists’ complaints about possible infringement of free speech, a House panel voted today to relax proposed registration requirements for lobbyists and to reduce their annual fee from $300 to $25.
The vote on Speaker David Ralston’s ethics proposal would allow volunteers representing an organization to visit the Capitol for up to five “free” days during each annual legislative session to advocate for or against a bill. Citizens expressing personal views, rather than on behalf of a group, also could lobby lawmakers without having to register.
For lobbyists who would still be required to register, the state’s two-year-old fee would be trimmed to 25 bucks. The lower fee, were it in effect this year for the 1,069 currently registered lobbyists, would have cost the state treasury about $294,000.
The House Rules subcommittee, at a hearing last week, had discussed whether to establish different fees for different types of lobbyists. But Rep. Rich Golick, the subcommittee’s chairman, noted that a federal court found a similar plan unconstitutional in 1995.
“That gets into the potentially dangerous realm of equal protection,” Golick noted. The amended bill, he said, would set the fee “level, even and low.”
Originally, the bill authored by House Speaker David Ralston would have expanded the definition of lobbyist to include virtually anyone lobbying legislators or other public officials. Registrants would have to pay a $300 annual fee and file reports on their expenditures at least once a month.
Witnesses told the subcommittee last week that the expense — and the possibility of fines for violating filing requirements — would have a chilling effect on citizens’ right to redress their grievances.
Golick said the full Rules Committee will likely consider the amended bill next week.