29 April 2009

Committee action, Apr. 29: HB 243, HB 84

HB 243 would require officeholders who appoint people to report how much those appointees gave to their campaigns. Author Rep. Neil Abramson said this was a good government measure that would create more transparency, that would only be an addition to reports already being filed.

Rep. Tony Ligi saw problems with the bill. He said the intentions seemed good, but he brought up some scenarios about how the bill could be entrapping, such as corporate contributions, and how it would be a tremendous amount of administrative work for the authorities. Abramson said he thought it should be an obligation of an elected official to do this and did not see it entrapping. Rep. Erich Ponti asked about how the bill was different, and pointed out that this bill was not similar to the previous amended version had been vetoed. Abramson said he objected to having the appointees and officeholders, and so left the former out in this year’s version. Ponti said the advantage of the appointees declaring was that that could be done more quickly than having an appointing authority having to go through many more records to report.

The governor’s executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth brought up that this bill would allow a “hidden” contribution – the governor has an appointment, a legislator recommends a person who has contributed to the legislator, but not the governor, and the governor appoints, by way of example. He also argued there already was transparency in that appointees were public knowledge, and contributors were public knowledge, so the bill would not make for any more transparency. He added that the veto on the previous bill because it created a dual reporting requirement that he believed had ethical problems.

Abramson said one way to fix the “hidden” problem would be to make all officials report if they recommended somebody, but offered no suggestions on how to do this. He said the current decentralized system was too great for a typical person to do, it would need an “investigative reporter” to do so.

Rep. Karen Peterson then engaged in an obtuse discussion with Faircloth where she said couldn’t understand where the transparency of the alternative was. Faircloth pointed out it was much easier and quicker for appointees to report than to have government on behalf of elected officials do it. Rep. Rosalind Jones asked why not make contributions to recommenders part of the vetting process for appointees, but Faircloth pointed out the vetting process was not public information and the current bill still did not cover this.

Rep. Patrick Connick asked how the “loopholes” could be corrected, and saw the bill would not do this. He said already the media put together appointees and contributions, so he did not see this bill as any improvement.

Rep. Merton Smiley asked for voluntary deferment, and there was no objection, but Peterson asked for a substitute to pass. That was defeated 7-11. Smiley then removed his motion. Peterson asked what was the procedure was in this case, which was one of the 11 who voted against the motion to bring it back up. Abramson asked if he could bring it back as amended, which then he allowed to be voluntarily deferred.

HB 84 would place term limits of no more than three on all elected officials. Rep. Simone Champagne extolled the virtues of the bill, but said it had created a lot of discussion and concern and some divisiveness, and thought the better part of discretion was to turn this into a study resolution, and asked to voluntarily defer this bill.

“Let’s not use ‘Smith’ … How about ‘Jones’ … oh, sorry Rosalind.”
Rep. Jane Smith, in trying to come up with a fictitious name as an example.

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