April 29, 2014 •
Pennsylvania Legislature Looks to Kentucky for Guidance on Crafting Ethics Law
Counsel for the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission John Schaaf testified before the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee on Kentucky’s strict ethics laws. Pennsylvania has one of the most lax ethics laws in the country, permitting officials to receive gifts in any amount, while Kentucky recently made its own strict law even more stringent by prohibiting all lobbyist gifts. Pennsylvania’s ethics laws have been under scrutiny after the recent allegations of legislators accepting cash payments from a lobbyist as part of a sting operation.
Schaaf testified about prior changes to Kentucky’s law enacted in a special session in 1993, in response to several legislators charged with ethics violations by the FBI. Schaaf stressed the importance of getting a law on the books; once enacted, it is difficult to change.
However, Kentucky’s ethics law only covers legislators and legislative candidates, and Pennsylvania Senator Lloyd Smucker, sponsor of a bill banning cash gifts, said broadening such a ban to other government employees makes the legislation more complex and may make it difficult to win support. Still, Pennsylvania’s lawmakers were interested in Kentucky’s approach to ethics, particularly the idea of an independent ethics commission available to answer questions from lawmakers and lobbyists.
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