As the 2010 legislative session wraps up, the General Assembly recently sent ethics reform legislation to the governor for his signature.
House Bill (HB) 1001 first passed the House on Jan. 11 by a vote of 97-2. The bill at that time included several provisions including:
· Mandatory "Cooling off Period" - Legislators must wait at least one year after leaving office until they can become a registered lobbyist.
· Stricter Guidelines on Gifts Reporting- Lobbyists would be required to report all gifts to legislators of at least $50. Previously, only gifts of $100 or more needed to be reported.
Bills then switched chambers during the second week of February. As the Senate heard HB 1001, they made amendments to the legislation before passing it by a vote of 50-0. Amendments to the legislation included:
· Reduces the threshold for reported one-time lobbyist expenses from $100 to $50 and reduces the annual total from $500 to $250.
· Prohibits lobbyists from paying for out-of-state travel expenses for legislators.
· Increases penalties from $10 per day to $100 per day for failure to file lobbyist registrations and reports in a timely manner. Increases the maximum penalty for failure to file lobbyist registration statements and activity reports from $100 to $4,500.
· Prohibits state candidates and office holders from political fundraising during the long session when lawmakers are already barred from doing so.
· Prohibits legislators from accepting honoraria for appearances and speeches related to legislative matters.
· Prohibits statewide officeholders from appearing or using their name in a print, radio or television advertisement funded with state-appropriated money unless there is a "compelling public policy reason" and permission is granted from the State Budget Committee and State Budget Agency. Gubernatorial public service announcements related to public health or safety would automatically be allowed.
Since amendments were added to HB 1001 in the Senate, the bill returned to the House. We were then able to agree to "concur" with the amendments and passed HB 1001 for a final time by a vote of 97-0. Now the bill waits for the governor's signature.
It has been over 15 years since any kind of ethics legislation has been passed. We have been in desperate need of catching these practices up to present day. However, this bill is a great first step to get ethical practices back in order, but there are some other issues regarding this bill that need to be addressed, possibly next year.
There are caucus campaign committees that collect thousands of dollars to be used in highly contested races. I would like to see campaign finance issues reevaluated and made more transparent for voters to see.
Some of this money is used for negative or untrue campaign advertising. I would like to see measures taken to discourage negative campaigning. I know our Constitution gives us freedom of speech but mudslinging tactics tend to turn voters away, not encourage the electoral process. Hopefully, as ethics continue to be reformed, we can control this practice from campaigns.
This year's ethics reform legislation was a great start in the process of complete reformation. But, we still have issues to resolve. If we want true reform we must continue to improve Indiana's campaign laws. I hope we can come back next year and take another step forward in the process. Until then, this is a positive first step.