Georgia Senate leaders to investigate European trip spending

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan speaks from his desk on the floor of the Georgia State Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Atlanta. Duncan said Monday, March 18, 2024, that he would not run as a third-party candidate affiliated with No Labels, a political group that's considering launching an independent campaign for the White House. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

The current leaders of the Georgia state Senate say they will investigate spending on a European trip last year by former state Senate leaders.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, former Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and other 12 others took a taxpayer-paid trip to Germany and England last year just before the terms of Duncan and Miller ended.

Legislative staffers have refused to say how much the trip costs, because the General Assembly exempted itself from the Open Records Act that applies to other state agencies.

The group made the trip from Nov. 12 to 19 to the German cities of Munich and Stuttgart and then London as part of a Senate Study Committee on Economic Development and International Relations. The legislation creating the committee was filed and passed by the Georgia Senate at the end of the 2022 session, and the panel was chaired by Miller.

“The recent AJC article about last fall’s study committee raises serious concerns about the use and purpose of Senate administrative funds in paying for travel expenses associated with this study committee,” Jones and Kennedy said in a statement Tuesday. “Recent developments have brought to light that proper protocol may not have been followed in the budget approval process for this trip.”

Jones and Kennedy, like Duncan and Miller, are Republicans. Duncan did not run for reelection, while Miller, of Gainesville, lost a Republican primary race for lieutenant governor to Jones. Kennedy, of Macon, was chair of the majority caucus under Miller.

Miller did not return messages seeking comment. A spokesperson for Duncan said the trip helped to build on “our strong relationships with private sector companies across the world.”

“The bipartisan Senate delegation trip helped maintain our state’s competitiveness and create more high quality jobs — two of the core accomplishments of Geoff Duncan’s tenure as lieutenant governor and head of the state Senate,” the statement said.

The newspaper reported that it reviewed 1,300 pages of emails from the state Department of Economic Development relating to the trip.

According to a report compiled by Duncan’s office and signed by Miller, the group met with government and business officials, toured company headquarters, studios, training schools and other facilities, and attended receptions. The newspaper found that transportation for the group alone probably cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Among the 14 people listed as attending, according to emails, were Duncan, Miller, and state senators including Republican Clint Dixon of Buford, Democrat Emanuel Jones of Decatur, Democrat Sonya Halpern of Atlanta, Democrat Sheikh Rahman of Lawrenceville, two members of Duncan’s security detail and Andrew Allison, the head of the Senate Press Office who left state government a little more than a month later for another job. Dixon, Jones, Halpern and Rahman remain senators.

Rahman called the trip a “working visit” that offered no real time for tourism. For example, he said he learned about Germany’s apprenticeship system, which helps link trained young people to businesses.

The General Assembly has a taxpayer-funded budget this year of roughly $53 million.

Emanuel Jones said he supports releasing cost and other information.