There is broad agreement that legislative ethics reform is needed, but until last week the matter was very much in doubt.
With the House Judiciary Committee’s approval of a substantive ethics bill last week, there appears to be momentum for reform. But there is still a way to go, and not much time.
The bill has to be approved by the House this week to meet the crossover deadline for legislation sent to the Senate. Then it must get approval by the Senate, which has a substantial agenda for the last few weeks of the session.
Legislators should make its passage a priority.
The House bill incorporates a number of initiatives, most notably the good work done by the governor’s commission on ethics reform.
For example, it would stop the practice of having legislators consider the ethical shortcomings of their colleagues.
Instead of having the House and Senate ethics committees deal with complaints, they would go to a revamped state Ethics Commission. All other elected officials in the state already get ethics oversight by the Ethics Commission and so should legislators.
It also would provide for the independent investigation of charges of public corruption.
There would be expanded requirements for income disclosure, and public transparency to limit potential conflicts of interest.
The bill would expand the definition of conflict of interest and increase penalties for serious ethics violations.
Further, the bill would eliminate the so-called leadership PACs in the House. (The PACs, used to finance campaigns, already have been outlawed by the state Senate.)
It would eliminate the blackout on making public campaign contributions just before an election.
And it would tighten regulations governing lobbyists, including those who operate outside of the state capital.
It’s been more than 20 years since the state’s ethics laws were strengthened, and it’s time to do so again. Legislators shouldn’t go home this year without passing a meaningful, comprehensive ethics reform bill.