Required Ethics Training for Public Officials

H.3237  proposes an amendment that would require all state or local public officials elected to office after July 1, 2015 to undergo specific ethics training in accordance with the guidelines put forth by the State Ethics Commission. The bill appears to be a step in the right direction, yet vague wording and a special clause that benefits members of the General Assembly suggest this bill may be nothing more than a cloud of smoke.

An enforcement of ethics training can be an effective reform strategy given that the penalties levied against violations are clear, concise and consistent. Clause (D) of H.3237 vaguely describes the penalization process, concluding that an “official who fails to comply with the provisions of this section may be assessed a civil penalty by the commission of an amount not exceeding one thousand dollars.” Lawmakers may take advantage of the logical structuring of the clause and gravitate towards the may not side of the argument.

The final amendment proposed in this bill reinforces the propensity for lawmakers to police their own ethics violations. For members of the General Assembly, ethics training, enforcement and penalization are handed over to the Ethics Committee of their respective house. Maintaining a separate system of rules and regulations that favor lawmakers is just another attempt to withhold transparency from the public. This bill stands to reinforce the notion that lawmakers are not accountable to the same ethics laws that govern all other elected officials.

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