Official Opinion 97-18
You have asked my opinion as to whether certain "public officers" must file the financial disclosure reports outlined under O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50, a portion of the Georgia Ethics in Government Act. Specifically, you have asked whether the Executive Director and the members of the various State Examining Boards must file these disclosure reports. It is my opinion that these officials, as well as other identified public officials, must make these financial disclosures.
An analysis of your inquiry begins with O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(a)(1) which provides:
[E]ach public officer, as defined in subparagraphs (A) through (E) of paragraph (15) of Code Section 21-5-3, shall file with the Secretary of State not before the first day of January nor later than July 1 of each year in which such public officer holds
office other than the year in which an election is held for such public office, a financial disclosure statement for the preceding calendar year; and each person who qualifies as a candidate for election as a public officer [as defined in O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(15)(A)-(E)] shall file with the Secretary of State, no later than the fifteenth day following the date of qualifying as a candidate, a financial disclosure statement for the preceding calendar year.
The "public officers" referred to in this statute include:
(A) Every constitutional officer;
(B) Every elected state official;
(C) The executive head of every state department or agency, whether elected or appointed;
(D) Each member of the General Assembly;
(E) The executive director of each state board or authority and the members thereof.
O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(15)(A)-(E). Your particular inquiry is whether the term "state board or authority" as referred to in Subsection (E) above relates to all appointed and elected boards, bureaus, agencies and commissions.
When O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(15)(E) was originally adopted in 1986, it defined "public officer" only to include the "executive director of each state authority." 1986 Ga. Laws 957, 962. This language was amended in 1992 to increase the scope of the definition of "public officer" to include the "executive director of each state board or authority and the members thereof." 1992 Ga. Laws 1075, 1076. This defines a group of officials who are currently subject to the reporting requirements of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(a).
I have previously recognized that, "In the absence of a controlling definition, language in statutes is given its ordinary and usual signification." 1995 Op. Att'y Gen. 95-42, p. 113, citing O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b). It is also, "a basic tenet of statutory construction that the General Assembly is presumed to enact legislation with full knowledge of the existing conditions of the law and statutes are to be construed in connection and in harmony with existing law." 1993 Op. Att'y Gen. U93-7, p. 94, citing Poteat v. Butler, 231 Ga. 187, 188 (1973). Finally, the intent of the General Assembly in enacting a statute can be determined from a review of the old law, any "evil" or problem demonstrated under the old law and the remedy adopted by the legislature. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a).
In O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3 the General Assembly provided no specific definition for the term "board." As such, the ordinary and common meaning of that term must be applied in this context. The term "board" is frequently and specifically used by the General Assembly in identifying statutory entities which it creates. E.g., the State Election Board (O.C.G.A. § 21-2-30); the State Board of Technical and Adult Education (O.C.G.A. § 20-4-10 et seq.). There are also a number of State Examining Boards which are responsible for the regulation of various professions, ranging from Accountants to Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators. See generally O.C.G.A. § 43-3-1 through 43-51-15. Given their specific designation as "boards" by the General Assembly, all of these entities would be covered within the statutory definition of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(15)(E) and therefore also subject to the reporting requirements of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(a).
However, it must be recognized that in its 1992 amendment, the General Assembly, while broadening the scope of the definition of "public official" to include both boards and their members as well as public authorities and their members, did not include other types of state entities within the scope of this statute. For example, the General Assembly did not provide that state commissions or bureaus are included within this statutory definition. The General Assembly has in the past provided for coverage of such entities and their members in other portions of both the Ethics in Government Act and in other statutes. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. § 21-5-30.2(a)(1)(A); O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1(a)(1)(A). Indeed, in this very definitional section of the Ethics in Government Act, the General Assembly chose to use a much more expansive listing of governmental
entities in defining who is a "public employee," as opposed to who is a "public official." See O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(14.2).
By choosing not to include those other types of entities within this definition, it does not appear to be the intent of the General Assembly to include within the scope of the Ethics in Government Act the requirement that the members of the governing bodies of these other entities which are neither specifically designated as "authorities" or "boards" be subject to the reporting requirements of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(a).
Therefore, it is my official opinion that the executive directors and members of the State Examining Boards, as well as other public officers defined in O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(15)(A)-(E), must file the financial disclosure reports required under the Ethics in Government Act, O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50.
DENNIS R. DUNN
Senior Assistant Attorney General