While we regret some of the changes that have been made to the original bill, we do support the intent of HB 1909.
It is vital that we restore the public’s trust in their elected leaders, whether nationally or locally. Whether the product of wrong perceptions or based on facts, people generally do have a positive attitude toward their own representatives but distrust “government”. And highly publicized misdeeds and errors or judgment by even a few further tarnishes the whole body. And since policies are collectively set, every decision can be suspect as to its motives.
The provisions of this bill suggests that the main responsibility of the two legislative standards of conduct committees would be to accept allegations of ethics violations by members, have the Ethics Commission determine whether the allegations fall within their jurisdiction, and the committees would deal with whatever is not accepted by the Ethics Commission.
As the committees get together to fashion their rules and procedures, etc., we hope that they will see as part of their responsibility, the prevention of ethical lapses. I hope they see as their most important mission, making ethical behavior a must and, yes, even fashionable and “cool”.
Chapter 84, B (3) states one of their responsibilities as being to review ethics issues as requested by the House Speaker and the Senate President for their respective houses. This should not prevent any member from suggesting issues that need review. Let’s take an issue like the acceptance of the loan of professional staff from private corporations or non-profit organizations to staff the committees and some of the offices of our elected officials. And issue like that could have been discussed by these committees and resolved without legislation.
Chapter 84-C (a) states that a person alleging an ethics violation by a member of the legislature may file a charge with the legislative standards of conduct committee of the member’s house. Who does the word “person” include? Members of the public? Only fellow legislators? Only the legislative staff?
Remember the Ethics Committee of the US House of Representatives? They restricted input of complaints to the committee to House members only. With most House members reluctant to lodge complaints against their peers, especially peers of the same party, the Ethics committee was rendered almost useless. Frequent discussion of ethics issues are beneficial, because in the rush to get certain tasks down, it’s not difficult to cut corners or to rationalize oneself out of what one knows is proper. Every unethical behavior prevented, or even stopped, prevents a stain on the legislative body.
While much that could be considered bold has been taken out of this bill, if done right, the formation of these committees could give proper direction to all members to remain true to the oaths they took before taking office. Or it could be neglected and be like the US House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee. Whatever decisions are made on rules and processes, we need to remember that transparency works wonders in building trust. Secrecy occurs when there is a need to hide information or motives for certain action.