To Disclose or Not to Disclose? The State House Forces the Right Call

On Friday afternoon, the Senate took a final vote on an amended SB 213, a bill much overshadowed by the Atlanta airport, heartbeats, and coal ash. In case you’re unfamiliar with SB 213, it has to do with donation disclosures by our state representatives and senators.

Since 2014, there has been a report due on January 31st to the state ethics commission to disclose donations members receive prior to the legislative session. At the request of the commission, SB 213 originally would have done away with the January report in non-election years like 2019 along with other (better) things, like requiring all PACs to disclose what they spend. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported shortly after the bill’s initial passage in the Senate, shuttering the January disclosure would have delayed reporting on pre-session donations, totaling $1.5 million this year, until July — well after the session was over. As it currently stands, the January reports usually become available to the public sometime during February.

The way this might play politically was clearly lost on the Senate and the ethics commission, both of which felt the disclosure requirement was easy to overlook, causing several legislators to miss the deadline. Others of us may feel this is merely a lack of attention to detail on the members’ parts, but po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, I suppose.

The Senate passed the bill nearly unanimously, with a few folks excused that day. No one saw how this might be a PR nightmare waiting in the wings. However, when lobbyists started to speak up against delaying the disclosure, it was just the first sign of trouble. The House was already signaling that there were issues before the bill was even delivered to them.

The House Government Affairs Committee removed language regarding the report, essentially restoring the January 31st reporting deadline. Senator Bill Heath, who is the sponsor of SB 213, told the committee he made a mistake in including the language to strip the reporting deadline. When the amended bill came up for a vote, the House passed it 162-1. The bill then returned to the Senate, where the amended version passed, and now it heads to Governor Kemp for signature or veto.

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