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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: December 28, 2022 03:59 PM
From: Senator Lisa Baker
To: All Senate members
Subject: 4 Legislative Reform Proposals
 
Please see the attached descriptions of the four different bills.



Document #1

Introduced as SB356

Description: Bill #1 – Cash Gift Ban
 
As you likely know, in recent years our Senate Ethical Conduct Rules have prohibited cash gifts to Senators and Senate employees from lobbyists, principals, and others seeking official action. 

Having the cash gift ban incorporated into the Ethical Conduct Rules of the Senate is an important first step, but we should continue pursuing a broader state law.

Please join me in co-sponsoring legislation amending Title 65 (Public Officers) to ban legislators, public officials and public employees from accepting cash gifts from lobbyists, principals, consultants, and others who seek to influence legislative or administrative action as defined in this statute.  “Cash gifts” shall include U. S. and foreign currency, money orders, checks, gift cards and gift certificates, prepaid debit and credit cards, and virtual currency.

The ban will not apply to a gift from a parent, spouse, child, or other close relative when the circumstances make it clear that the motivation for the gift is a personal or family relationship.

This legislation was SB 399 from last Session.
 

Document #2

Introduced as SB572

Description: Bill #2 – Total Gift Ban
Merely requiring the disclosure of gifts received above a certain value is no longer regarded by the public as an effective guard against corruption. A complete gift ban will help rebuild public confidence that our laws and policies are shaped through thoughtful deliberation rather than by undue influence on the part of special interests.

This legislation amends Title 65 (Public Officers) and Title 74 (Transportation) and will:

• Incorporate a cash gift ban;
• Prohibit the solicitation of gifts by public officials and public employees;
• Ban all gifts with limited, reasonable exceptions; and
• Apply to all public officials and public employees.

Gifts to public officials and public employees will be prohibited from:

• Lobbyists;
• Principals;
• Anyone with an existing government contract;
• Anyone seeking a government contract; and
• Anyone seeking to influence official action.

The legislation will also prohibit gifts to relatives of public officials and public employees if the gift is given because of the official’s or employee’s position.

Gift will be defined to include anything of value, including items, meals, travel, lodging and entertainment, with exceptions for items of nominal value (under $50), gifts among family members, awards or prizes, and campaign contributions otherwise reported as required by law, among others. 
Additional common-sense exceptions for meals include those: at regularly scheduled events sponsored by a constituent or statewide organization; provided when the public official or public employee is speaking to a group or participating in a discussion panel; at widely attended events when the public official or public employee is invited in connection with performance of official duties and provided by the sponsor of the event; at charity fund-raising events; and at campaign events.


Last Session, this was SB 401.
 
 

Document #3

Introduced as SB358

Description: Bill #3 – Legislative Conduct Review Board
In responding to allegations of harassment and misconduct, we find ourselves in a difficult position. Many people doubt that we, as legislators, are willing to thoroughly investigate and properly judge our peers. Certainly, the track record of reviewing previous claims does not provide reassurance otherwise. There is not a great deal of confidence that the current structure provides a satisfactory avenue for resolving claims.

I am proposing to establish a Legislative Conduct Review Board, patterned after the Judicial Conduct Board, whose jurisdiction would include allegations against Senators and House members for unethical conduct in violation of any rule, statute or constitutional provision governing the ethical conduct of legislators. The panel would receive complaints, investigate them, and render judgment as to their credibility. In addition to legislators, it would include both experts and lay persons who could bring diversity and differing viewpoints. This process will work to prevent the partisan quandaries that can stand in the way of a fair review and will provide remedies that work to rebuild public trust and confidence in the process.

The proposal will also provide that upon the board making a threshold determination of credibility, a recommendation may be made to suspend a member from voting and committee participation until a final determination is reached.

In cases where this board makes a final determination that the accusations are credible, the matter would revert to the full Senate or House for any appropriate disciplinary action.

It is not defensible to tell people that we take their complaints seriously, but then refrain from taking any apparent or decisive action. This process is designed to assure both the member and the complainant that due process will be afforded. And it will provide incontrovertible evidence that we are taking a strong stand against harassment, public corruption, or other misconduct, no matter the position or the party of the accused.
 
This legislation has previously been reported unanimously from the Judiciary Committee.  Last Session it was SB 864. 
 
 

Document #4

Introduced as SB374

Description: Bill #4 – Legislative COLA Refusal
Legislative pay raises rightfully gain attention and scrutiny from taxpayers.  As public servants sent to Harrisburg to make a difference for our communities, it is paramount that we lead by example when striving to be fiscally responsible.
 
Like many of you, I have chosen to donate any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to a local non-profit organization in my Senatorial District. However, I believe that members of the General Assembly should be able to reject receipt of a COLA. To achieve this, I plan to re-introduce SB 1087, amending the Public Official Compensation Law. 
 
A legislator would only need to submit a written refusal of the COLA to the Chief Clerk no later than ten days prior to the annual effective date of the adjustment. The election to reject the adjustment would be irrevocable during the member’s term of office.
 
Cost savings are effectively achieved when we all come together to examine the needs of our Commonwealth and prioritize responsible spending.