Last week, the Assembly passed initiatives with the intention of establishing true ethics reform in state government. As a long-time advocate for real government reform, I am pleased we passed legislation on this important issue.
However, I had hoped the reform measures would have gone a step further.
My Assembly minority colleagues and I proposed two amendments to the Ethics Reform Bill including prohibiting convicted felons from collecting their state pensions and requiring a public hearing on the ethics reform act prior to it being enacted into law. Unfortunately, these amendments were defeated by the Assembly majority.
Reforms that were passed include prohibiting legislators from accepting gifts of more than nominal value from lobbyists, prohibiting non-legislative employees to compel employees to make political contributions, preventing the candidacy of agency heads for a paid elected office, prohibiting candidates and elected officials from appearing in taxpayer-funded ads and creating a new thirteen-member state Commission on Public Integrity.
While these reforms are a step in the right direction, they do not go far enough. It is essential to any democracy that public input is taken very seriously, without legislation being created and debated behind closed doors. That is why I had hoped public hearings would have been established.
Along with this measure, a true ethics reform bill should include provisions to deny someone who violates public trust their taxpayer-funded state pension. In recent months, certain public officials have dishonored the public trust and misused taxpayer money for their own personal gain. Elected officials should be held responsible for abuses of power that weaken our government and reduce its effectiveness. They should also be held to the highest level of moral and ethical standards. Such behavior cannot be tolerated and we must work hard to restore the publicís confidence in lawmakersí ability to govern.
Ethics reforms like the amendments proposed by the Assembly minority would have made the reform legislation much stronger, making our state government and elected officials more accountable for their actions. I hope in future ethics reform deliberations we will work to improve how government operates and restore public confidence in the state Legislature.