It isn’t often that we get to report good news from the Capitol, and never have we done it in two consecutive editions of DR News. There’s a first time for everything.
Yesterday, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate announced the introduction of legislation to create an independent Public Integrity Commission with comprehensive powers to root out corruption in PA. Led by Reps. Curt Schroder (Chester) and Eugene DePasquale (York) in the House, and by Sens. Ted Erickson (Delaware) and John Yudichak (Luzerne) in the Senate, the proposal is the most comprehensive response to date to the years of local and state scandals plaguing PA.
The Public Integrity Commission proposed in House Bill 1200 and Senate Bill 625 incorporates the existing State Ethics Commission and expands the power and mission in the new PIC. The House bill has 46 co-sponsors, and the Senate Bill has 15. Click on the bill numbers, then on “Printer’s No.” at the bottom of the page (not “Text” at the top) to see who co-sponsored the bills.
Click here to watch the video of the entire news conference through Schroder’s web site. Here’s the story fromThe Philadelphia Inquirer: Legislators propose new Capitol ethics commission.
The PIC would cover all branches of state and local government. It would include trained investigators whose job would be to find, investigate and turn over to prosecutors cases of public corruption. This stands in contrast to recent prosecutions that occurred when someone made a mistake and got caught (the Bonus Scandal) or that were conducted by the federal government (former Sen. Vince Fumo and the Luzerne County “kids-for-cash” scandal). None of the recent prosecutions began with investigations initiated by established state law enforcement agencies such as the attorney general, auditor general, State Police, Ethics Commission, or inspector general.
Independence at last
In drafting the bill, lawmakers recalled the fate of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, an earlier agency established to root out corruption. When investigators got too close to former Attorney General Ernie Preate, who was later convicted on federal charges, the legislature simply stopped funding the Crime Commission and killed it. To prevent the PIC from suffering a similar fate, lawmakers propose to use part of an existing court system fee that will not require annual appropriations by the General Assembly. The PIC is expected to cost $4-5 million a year.
Another element of independence is the composition of the seven-member commission. No more than three members of the commission can be from the same political party, meaning that no party will get automatic control over the PIC.
Work to be done
Integrity advocates and others point out ways in which the proposed law can be strengthened. Two changes some would like to see include:
- Prohibiting public officials from receiving gifts and gratuities from lobbyists. Two-thirds of PA voters favor a ban.
- Changing the role of the State Police Commissioner, a political appointee, in determining the training that PIC investigators receive.
Both bills have been referred to their respective State Government Committees. Whether and when they receive hearings and votes is undetermined.
- Did your representative and senator co-sponsor House Bill 1200 and Senate Bill 625? If not, why not?
- Will legislative leaders require the committee chairs to hold hearings and votes on these bills before the summer recess?
- How will you let your lawmakers know what you think about this proposal and what you expect them to do?
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