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Beavers' ethics reform bill put off until '06
May 19, 2005 12:00 am
May 18, 2005
Though ethics reform has been touted as one of the Tennessee General Assembly's primary goals this session, a bill aimed at eliminating conflicts of interest was quashed by state lawmakers Tuesday.
Sponsored by State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, Senate Bill 2129 sought to forbid any member of the General Assembly from "casting a vote on any motion involving a bill or amendment" during the committee process, "if the subject matter involves a business or other venture in which the member or an immediate family member has a personal financial interest."
Beavers noted the legislation was modeled after similar steps toward ethics reform taken by Kentucky lawmakers, adding the Bluegrass State's legislation "had some teeth in it."
Under Beavers' legislation – the House version of which is sponsored by State Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville – any state lawmaker who uses his or her "influence" as a member of the General Assembly in any matter where a "substantial conflict" exists would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
The penalty for lawmakers who use their position for financial gain would be greater, Beavers explained.
"If you use your official position or office to obtain financial gain for yourself or any members of your family … that's a Class D felony," she said.
On Tuesday, the House State and Local Government Committee deferred action on the bill until July 2006. Beavers said the decision undermined the goal of immediate ethics reform in state government.
"It effectively kills this bill for this General Assembly," she said, adding the bill will be redrafted and submitted again during the next Legislative session. " … I think they just don't want any good ethics legislation because, if they wanted a strong bill, this does it. It's only a felony if you take money, which it should be, and the other parts of it are just misdemeanors."
Some state legislators expressed concern with issues that might arise were Beavers' bill approved, including whether or not a lawmaker with family members in education would be allowed to vote on the state's budget.
Beavers noted the proposed law would not prohibit any lawmaker from voting on the appropriations bill, however.
She added the Kentucky law went one step farther than her proposal, as it prohibited a state lawmaker from voting on an issue if his or her parents had a financial interest in the issue.
The Kentucky statute also bars lawmakers from even arguing on an issue he or she might have a financial interest in, Beavers said.
"I just thought it was good legislation in Kentucky," she said. "They actually have an elected attorney general who has been going after legislators, and several have been brought down with similar laws. They've also gone after some of the governors up there. I think, if we're serious about ethics legislation, we should put something like this in place."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.