For The Record
Georgia senator wants to silence Gold Dome liars
State Sen. Jeff Mullis tells the state Senate Ethics Committee Tuesday that he doesn’t want to hear from obvious liars. State lawmakers are exempted from his resolution to ban fibs since they take an honesty oath at the start of every term. Maggie Lee/Georgia Recorder
A Georgia state lawmaker says people should be muzzled if they’re caught lying to senators who are trying to tend to the people’s business at the Capitol.
So State Sen. Jeff Mullis said Tuesday he wants a ban on any new testimony from people who have lied to him and other lawmakers during hearings on legislative business. Hearing testimony tends to come from the usual assortment of paid lobbyists, underpaid advocates and, on occasion, the general public.
“From time to time, you feel as if you’re getting false information,” said Mullis, with a smile, explaining his Senate Resolution 459 during Tuesday’s Senate Ethics Committee Meeting. As Senate Rules chair, he’s one of Georgia’s most powerful lawmakers.
So you don’t want him catching you in a lie.
The Chickamauga Republican said his legislation doesn’t stem from any particular deception someone tried to slip by him during his nearly 20 years in the state Senate. The resolution is leftover from last year, so it can’t be the result of a recent whopper.
And the tall-tale ban can’t be blamed on any of the nearly 4,000 groups who employ nearly 1,000 lobbyists accredited to ply their trade at the 236-member Georgia Legislature. (Though it could be that at least some of those lobbyists might stretch the truth a bit to help a client).
But the reality is Georgia’s citizen-lawmakers rely heavily on outside expertise, including from some of those lobbyists who sometimes – gasp! – write the legislation lawmakers wind up passing into law.
“We trust a lot without verifying,” Mullis said.
And maybe that’s not ideal.
Lawmakers are generally taking a hiatus from some day job that pays more than their $17,000 state compensation for schlepping to Atlanta during the 40 working days of the Georgia Legislature.
Sure, there are more than enough lawyers to fill the Legislature’s judiciary committees with legal experts.
But there aren’t anywhere near enough teachers, nurses or cops to fill the committees that hear bills on education, health care or public safety. So that leaves a shortage of subject experts with most legislators learning on the job about how the policies they set will affect Georgians and their communities.
Enter a legion of lobbyists helpfully testifying at hearings. (Or, sometimes the lobbyists find the educating more effective at a steakhouse, or other less public venue).
Mullis’ draft resolution also threatens to refer liars to local prosecutors. The fib filing has co-signers from both sides of the aisle.
Still, members of the state Senate Ethics Committee Tuesday had more questions than answers. Who determines what’s a lie and could the accused liar rebut the charge? Could the state Senate hold someone in contempt for lying? Would Fulton County’s prosecutor charge someone with making false statements?
Mullis said he’s open to any kinds of suggestions and agreed to work with colleagues and legislative legal counsel to create something on the up and up for a future committee vote.
But there’s a reason the Senate hasn’t addressed lying in its long history, said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, a Tucker Democrat. It’s difficult to do.
“A lot of people come to us and I think they’re lying,” Henson said. “But when I confront them later, they say they (simply) believe differently.”
Sure, that’s the ticket.
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