HARRISBURG — The Senate State Government Committee approved legislation today that would ban cash gifts to legislators and public officials, according to Committee Chairman Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-13).
Senate Bill 1327, which was introduced by Smucker and Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), would create an absolute ban on public officials accepting cash gifts from lobbyists and other individuals who seek to influence the legislative process.
“State residents deserve to know that the decision-making process in the legislature is driven solely by the desire to enact good public policy,” Smucker said. “Substantial reforms are necessary to prevent abuses of the legislative process and begin the process of restoring the public’s faith in state government.”
Baker said the issue has serious local importance for her given the numerous individuals in positions of authority that have been charged with public corruption in Luzerne County.
“We cannot convincingly say that our laws and rules are sufficient. Not with so many violations. Not with so little apparent deterrent power,” she said. “We must take affirmative steps to assure the public that the business of governing is run honestly by individuals of integrity. It is imperative that we adopt stricter standards and stronger enforcement.”
The ban would apply to all U.S. and foreign currency, checks, money orders, prepaid gift cards and debit cards. Exceptions are provided for gifts or prizes offered to the general public, commercial loans made in the normal course of business, gifts from family members who are not linked to official action and properly reported campaign contributions.
Violators who accept a cash gift of $250 or more would face a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years.
The committee will hold a hearing on April 28 to explore further improvements to the state’s ethics laws in relation to legislators, including laws passed in other states and proposals that have been suggested by lawmakers and good government groups.
“Action by this committee on this bill is not the end of our repair work on the subject of gifts,” Smucker said. “We will soon hold a public hearing to begin work on a bill to do away with the non-cash gifts coming from lobbyists. Turning the proposed cash gift ban into law may provide momentum for additional reforms.”