While stopping of short meeting the call for a complete gift ban, the legislation supported by these members of Legislature s Government Reform Caucus would provide for fuller disclosure of gifts that public officials and employees receive.
The caucus called the nearly identical and bills they endorsed as both meaningful and able to win majority support in the House and Senate to reach Gov. Tom Corbett s desk for enactment.
Action needs to happen so we can give the taxpayers and families of Pennsylvania something concrete on these issues, said Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, at a Capitol news conference on Monday. Tepltiz co-chairs the government reform caucus along with newly appointed co-chair, Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland.
A House State Government Committee hearing on the lower reporting threshold proposal is scheduled for early June, said Dunbar, who the bill's sponsor.
Thethat immediately bans House members from accepting cash gifts. The this week.
Renewed calls for restrictions on gifts to public officials arises in the aftermath of the recent revelation about four state lawmakers being caught on tape accepting money from a confidential informant posing as a lobbyist during a criminal investigation. However, government reform caucus members said gift restrictions has been its primary focus since last fall.
The House and Senate legislative proposals the first that the government reform caucus has publicly endorsed are similar and both would amend the Public Officials and Employee Ethics Act to require any gift valued at more than , down from the current 0 threshold, would have to be reported on their annual statement of financial interest.
It also would require reporting any expense for transportation, lodging or hospitality valued at more than 0, down from the current 0 limit.
Additionally, Dunbar said the House bill, which he sponsored, would also provide a place on the financial interest statement where an official or public employee could voluntarily disclose any gift that he or she received. Dunbar said he intends to do that.
Barry Kauffman, Common Cause Pennsylvania executive, called this proposal a start although Still, he wants to give lawmakers credit for at least considering going this far and hopes they can drive the proposal across the finish line to get it on the books.
We cannot allow them to squander this moment, Kauffman said. The public is paying attention. Everybody understands what is going on. We know we have to eliminate or drastically limit this and now s the time to do it.
Both Dunbar and Teplitz said while a complete ban sounds appealing, it is not practical. They said lowering the reporting threshold would create less confusion.
Teplitz cited instances where advocacy groups drop off a mug or a T-shirt at a legislator s office without anyone knowing who did it, which makes it difficult to return. Additionally, he said if a constituent gives him homemade goodies, it seems impolite to not accept them.
If a legislator can be bought for a T-shirt or a coffee mug or a box of candy then we ve got bigger problems, Teplitz said.
Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, is urging advocacy groups to help by not bringing the gifts to legislative offices or at least directing the money or gift to a place where it is needed. "There is not a true need certainly in my office," she said.
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