Rep. Wendell Willard

In May, Common Cause, the citizen’s lobbying organization, honored Sandy Springs Rep. Wendell Willard for his efforts to rein in lobbyists at the state Legislature. Last session, he proposed limits on the size of gifts that lobbyists could give legislators, but the effort didn’t go anywhere. A Republican who represents District 49, Willard says he wants to try again once the 2011 session begins on Jan. 10.

Q. Do you plan to introduce legislation again this year limiting gifts to legislators?

A. I was planning on it. I want to talk to some of the other leadership people in the House. We did a good bill last year, but I think there are still some things that can be improved upon. I think there are some things people would like to see, [including] a limit on gifts that elected officials can receive. We’ve had too many times of elected officials, local people as well as legislators, receiving football tickets and things like that.

[The gift limit] is part of what I was looking at doing. We also have a provision for persons who leave the executive branch of government waiting a year before they come back as lobbyists to speak on legislation.

Q. Why not just ban all gifts to legislators?

A. I suggested a $100 limit. I think that’s reasonable. One thing we didn’t want to do is have [the limit] so low that you have the situation, as they do in Florida, of the “no cup of coffee” rule. It just becomes a situation, as I’ve seen in other states. People try to find a way to file a complaint against an elected official for a very minor thing. If someone gives you a book, that may be a minor thing, but what do you do?

Q. What do you think would be the best way to improve ethical behavior in the Legislature in the future?

A. We’ve done some things that I think are major improvements this past year. We’ve had better reporting. We’ll probably do some better funding of our ethics commission so it has the appropriate staff to maintain investigations.