November 15, 2016

House Ethics Committee Makes Recommendations To Strengthen Ethics Rules

The House Ethics Committee Tuesday adopted a series of recommendations on changing the Committee’s operating procedures and authorizing the Committee to issue advisory opinions on legislative ethics, decorum and matters involving legislative nonprofit organizations.
The recommendations would also prohibit the Committee from initiating complaints against any member within 60 days of an election in which the member is a candidate.
“At the beginning of each legislative term, the House establishes the rules that will govern it for the two-year session,” said Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks), Majority Chair of the Committee. “The Committee’s recommendations, which received the Committee’s unanimous approval, would clarify and strengthen the House Ethical Conduct Rules and the rights and responsibilities of the House Ethics Committee, which is charged with addressing matters involving conflicts of interest or job-related misconduct by House members, staff and officers. The Committee’s recommendations clear up ambiguities in our House rules and provide the committee with a clearer path to resolution of issues that come before it.”
“These recommendations reflect a desire to clarify and improve the Ethics Committee’s role and processes,” said Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Minority Chair. “It is my hope that they will be considered as House rules are developed for the 2017-18 legislative session.”
Among the other changes were--
-- Reinforcing due process rights for anyone under investigation, the proposed rules would also clarify the burden of proof necessary at each stage of the process;
-- Provide the Committee with clarification on when it is permitted or required to hire independent counsel;
-- When it is authorized to issue and enforce subpoenas;
-- The timeframe in which the Committee is required to act; the Committee’s authority to sanction members and House employees; and
-- The better defines the Committee’s authority to define potential sanctions; and the Committee’s authority to defer cases to prosecutorial entities investigating the same or similar conduct as that before the Committee.
The Committee’s recommendations will go before the full House for consideration when it returns to session January 3.