The Senate State Government Committee examined proposals Monday that would prohibit legislators from receiving non-cash gifts from those seeking to influence the legislative process.
Committee Majority Chair Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) said the hearing offered lawmakers an opportunity to learn more about ethics laws enacted in other states, as well as good-government proposals that have been introduced in the General Assembly.
Sen. Smucker emphasized that the hearing would serve as a prelude to prompt legislative action banning inappropriate gifts to legislators, including travel, hospitality and entertainment.
“A number of states enforce airtight restrictions on gifts to legislators, and their experience offers us a viable roadmap to improve our own laws,” Sen. Smucker said. “My intention is to identify the most promising proposals and combine them into a comprehensive bill to strengthen ethical standards for all public officials.”
Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission Counsel John Schaaf outlined measures his state has adopted to prevent businesses, special interest groups and individuals from exerting undue influence over the legislative process, including an absolute prohibition on lobbyists giving anything of value to a legislator or candidate. Kentucky is widely considered to have one of the strongest legislative ethics laws in the nation.
PA Common Cause Executive Director Barry Kauffman also offered insight regarding potential measures to ban gifts to legislators and improve state laws relating to legislative ethics. Smucker and Committee Minority Chairman Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) each stressed the need for a bipartisan approach to ethics reform.
The hearing followed recent approval of legislation (Senate Bill 1327) and a new Senate Rule (Senate Resolution 339) sponsored by Smucker in conjunction with Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) to ban cash gifts to legislators.
Sen. Smucker said that a broader prohibition on non-cash gifts was the next logical step toward restoring the public’s faith in state government.
“Many members of the public feel that the legislative process has been tainted by the shadow of greed and corruption,” Sen. Smucker said. “The best way to win back the trust of citizens is to take significant and enforceable measures to remove the threat of inappropriate actions by lawmakers.”Audio and video links of the hearing are available online.