15 February 2008

Floor action, Feb. 15: HB 1

HB 1 would expand dramatically ethics disclosure requirements for public officials. Speaker Jim Tucker after a discussion of amendments adopted without dissent, and then turned things over to floor amendments.

Rep. Fred Mills offered an amendment to move boards and commissions, at least for those that were included in the scope of the call and already would have been part of the second tier because of budgets greater than $10,000, from the lowest category of reporting to the second tier. He pointed out these had substantial powers even if some budgets were small and compensation low and therefore ought to come under stricter scrutiny. He argued that constables in some jurisdictions would have to report in the middle tier, so why not the members of these? After favorable questions, it was adopted unanimously to cheers.

Rep. Jeff Arnold asked for an amendment by Rep. Hollis Downs to remove information about the size of liabilities owed to licensed, already-regulated, financial institutions, although favorable arrangements to officials not available to the public would have to be reported. Tucker argued against it, noting that it could tip off potential illegal activity, although Arnold said it was likely to be found through other means. The amendment passed 51-45.

Rep. Nita Hutter asked that all lowest-tier officials, those with voting population jurisdictions less than 5,000, should be moved to the middle tier. She said the scope of powers they have, just as what justified the Mills amendment, mandated this. “An elected official is an elected official is an elected official,” she said. Tucker argued this was moving too far, too fast, and it may not be acceptable to rural interests. Other representatives echoed that this provision could kill the bill. The amendment failed 4-94.

Rep Kirk Talbot wanted to add two governor staffers to the top tier covered. Tucker said he believed a better interpretation of the call which he thought originally applied only to agency heads. It was adopted without objection, to applause.

Rep. Cedric Richmond wanted to amend in essentially the entire governor’s office which includes thousands of staffers. Tucker replied it was too overbroad, that elected and appointed policy-making individuals only should be included. Richmond withdrew and then asked to amend in correctional wardens. Tucker pointed out this was the wages of expanding beyond policy-makers, and opposed. Richmond said these wardens had much contracting power, and thus appropriately should be added. The amendment failed 28-63.

Richmond then queried during a slow moment with a point of order whether the Talbot amendment would cease to cover officials if their job titles changed. Speaker Pro-Tem Karen Carter Peterson said in fact a title change would cause non-coverage.

Rep. John LaBruzzo offered an amendment that would waive reporting if there was a case of identity theft. He said false claims of dishonesty because of this could be used against an officeholder by having an investigation launched. But Tucker objected, saying this excuse could be used disingenuously to avoid reporting, but that before the bill hit the Senate they could work something out to provide for a better way to handle the issue. LaBruzzo said he thought the language of the amendment was clear enough to allow only genuine cases to be used as an excuse. The amendment failed 2-94.

Speaking for passage of the bill, Rep. Sam Jones said he was troubled that the bill’s provisions were “unreasonable” invasions of privacy. He said it was too fast, and said he heard some would give up wanting to run for local government. “Why are you putting you wives and husbands into doing this,” he asked. This bill “makes government our masters,” and “tramples the Bill of Rights” he claimed, saying current laws could handle corruption. This would cause “government to register our wives and husbands,” perhaps followed by “our internal organs.” Needless to say, he did not recommend passage.

Rep. Jane Smith defended the bill as amended, saying that Tucker had made a bill that was considerate of legislators’ and other officials’ rights. Rep. Rick Gallot said the bill might be intrusive but that was the price to be paid to be in public service. Richmond said he didn’t like this bill, but said perceptions were such that he’d be willing to put up with it, if it could keep people from calling legislators corrupt.

Tucker said this was something that could not have been contemplated in the past, a bill that would restore confidence in the state’s political leaders. While not perfect, he said it achieved the object of sufficient transparency. The bill, after applause for the staff, passed 102-1, to applause.

If you have a $100,000 credit card, I need to get your credit.
Arnold to Rep. Walker Hines when the latter used that as an example in a question.

No comments: