ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Senate placed a time limit on how soon accusers must report allegations of misconduct by senators and their staffs Monday as the legislature convened for its 2019 session.
Lawmakers in the House, meanwhile, easily re-elected Republican David Ralston of Blue Ridge as speaker during a day largely devoted to the inauguration of GOP Gov. Brian Kemp.
Still, the Senate found time to adopt changes to the way it conducts internal investigations of misconduct allegations. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the new rule says the Senate's internal ethics panel will only investigate allegations of misconduct reported within two years of the alleged incidents.
The new rule also says gives the Senate power to dismiss internal ethics complaints filed by accusers who publicly disclose the allegations. It says allegations may be made public only in cases where "substantial credible evidence exists."
The changes come after a former Senate leader, Republican David Shafer, was accused of sexual harassment last year by a lobbyist whose allegations dated back to 2011. Shafer lost his 2018 GOP primary campaign for lieutenant governor. The Senate eventually dismissed the complaint.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan told lawmakers the amended rule only affects internal complaints against senators and staff members.
"There are multiple avenues that a person can make a complaint," said Dugan, R-Carrollton. "They can do it internally through the system . or they can go and take it to the court system."
Senate Democrats unanimously opposed the rule change.
"This change is very troubling when we had a leader in the Senate who had (internal misconduct) charges brought against him just last year," said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.
Previously there had been no time limit on filing complaints with the Senate.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com