Today, I voted for the Public Integrity Act of 2011, which seeks to implement across-the-board ethics reform. This legislation contains some positive changes, but lacks follow-through on many of its promises. For instance, a provision that would strip public employees convicted of felonies of their pensions not only exempts teachers, but also allows for other exceptions. For example, those showing that the forfeiture of their pension would create financial hardship may be exempt altogether from the punishment. The legislation also gives the power to district attorneys to choose whether they should pursue forfeiture, immensely weakening this portion of the legislation, which I believe should be automatically enacted on all officials convicted of felonies related to their office. The flawed pension forfeiture provision is only one example from a bill that lays the foundation for positive change, but fails to follow through on the details.
The devil in the details in this case reflects the lack of transparency in the construction of this legislation. The Assembly Minority was left out of this discussion and, ironically, a bill meant to create transparency and accountability was shrouded in mystery with only small pieces of information leaking out following the governor’s triumphant announcement that an agreement had been reached.
Although I am critical of the lack of teeth in this legislation, I do recognize that it is still progress. I am hopeful that, in the near future, we can build upon the small steps we took today and pass true ethics reform.