Ethics Plan Clears Senate

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A wide-ranging ethics package that cleared the Senate Wednesday would prevent executive branch officials, such as the governor, from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists or personal gifts.

Lawmakers who favored the plan said it was aimed at toughening laws for executive branch officials up to the same level that currently governs state legislators. Under the proposal, lawmakers also would not be allowed to solicit or accept political donations from lobbyists.

"We have very strong legislative branch ethics laws here in the commonwealth," said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. "The executive branch should live under those same laws so that the people of this commonwealth can have confidence in the integrity of both the executive and legislative branches of government."

Gov. Steve Beshear began pushing an ethics reform package earlier this year. Beshear, who defeated former Gov. Ernie Fletcher in November, ran in part on a promise to run an ethical administration.

Fletcher was indicted on misdemeanor charges stemming from an investigation into his administration's hiring practices. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges as part of a negotiated deal, after Fletcher pardoned his entire administration for any possible charges that could stem from the probe.

The Senate plan, which was approved by a 29-7 vote, prohibits executive branch officials and their immediate families from accepting gifts other than up to $100 in food and drinks from lobbyists. Members of the legislature already face similar restrictions.

It would also require executive branch officials to wait two years before lobbying or working for companies they had contact with during their state employment.

Portions of the bill would also apply to state legislators.

Some lawmakers said the proposal could be too restrictive and make some lawmakers inadvertently cross the law.

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said the measure would prohibit lawmakers from having conversations with their employers regarding legislation dealing with the employer. Shaughnessy said that could affect some lawmakers if their employers receive funding through the state budget.

"We are going to put all of us in jeopardy of being felons," Shaughnessy said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he had not fully reviewed the proposal. Richards said he expected the final version would be decided on through further negotiations between the House and Senate.

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, disagreed with the bill, and said it was not in the public's best interest. Under the proposal, formal complaints about legislators made to the Legislative Branch Ethics Commission would be dismissed if they were not kept confidential by the complainant.

Beliles said it's in the public's best interest to allow people filing complaints to tell the media.

"We don't have any money," Beliles said. "If we can't talk to the media, we don't have hardly anything."

The legislation is House Bill 250.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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