Last week the people experienced some serious loss of ground on the ethics bill in the House. The Local Government Subcommittee weakened the bill by loosening restrictions for members of the ethics commission, undid some of the work of another committee, and removed certain requirements for lobbyists. What is needed is more public attention and scrutiny of the bill in order to produce meaningful legislation. Specifically, the bad amendments do the following;
1. Allow the spouse or immediate family member of a member of the Ethics Commission to be a lobbyist, officer of a political party or legislator. (This poses severe conflicts of interest.)
2. Shorten the “revolving door” door period from one year to six months. (This would allow members of the commission to make political contributions, register as a lobbyist and engage in other political activity just six months after leaving the commission. Tennessee is already has the weakest laws in the country – this would maintain our ranking.)
3. Remove the Registry of Election Finance from the Ethics Commission. (This creates more bureaucracy and duplicates services. It will undo the work of the House Government Operations Committee and cost taxpayers more money. It also creates the potential for agency shopping.)
4. Remove the requirement that lobbyists disclose the bills on which they are lobbying. (Special interest’s interests would still be in the dark where the citizens are concerned.)
Ethics is that source of guidance beyond enforceable law. Therefore it can be very difficult to define or state exactly what is ethical and what is not. Values differ from individual to individual. One person might object to a co-worker using a sick day when they are not truly sick and another would not. One might use the photo copier at work for personal reasons while another would report such activity.
The anger of the citizens and the apparent lack of understanding among some of the legislators has not been sorted out. In the rush to make new laws, and promptly weaken them, the legislators have not yet paused to speak to just what exactly ethics is and what should the standard be for legislators.
Perhaps an ethical agreement or code among legislators might help to uncover common ground for ethics reform. If we can reveal the bedrock, perhaps the laws that are built up from there would have more integrity.
A legislator is a public servant working to protect the rights of the citizens and to clarify rights and laws for the common good. We hold that there is certain behavior that the legislative branch should not engage in. It is clear and uncontroversial that legislators should;
Uphold the Constitution’s of the state of Tennessee and the United States of America and make no law to the contrary of either.
Abide by all laws of the state of Tennessee and the United States of America.
Vote without affection, favor, partiality, or prejudice.
Vote for no law injurious to the people.
Not lessen or abridge the rights and privileges of the people.
Not seek to profit from their position.
Not employ intimidation, threat or coercion for personal, financial or political gain.
Report illegal behavior of other legislators or employees.
Not use the resources of the state for personal use.
Not accept gifts given due to their position or for the performance of their duties.
Contributions to campaigns should be accepted with the understanding between both parties that they procure no influence, nor promise of any vote, service or favor.
When involved in the important act of forging consensus, policy makers should commit to screen all information through their own values, convictions, and principles; employing the virtues of honesty and integrity, and should reject the influence of all conflicts of interest by using their core values as a template to place over the decisions that they face.
Legislators should not therefore perform any task or deed in direct conflict with conscience or contrary to the best interest of their constituency or the state.
This code is by no means all encompassing. Laws must be drafted that define illegal conduct, without loop holes, and with strict punishment.
I am hopeful that the citizens will continue to pay strict attention at this time when our state legislature is in special Extraordinary Session. In truth, we should always have a healthy skepticism of our government and public officials. However, I don’t want to end up looking back on ethics reform with utter disappointment.
Representative Lynn serves House District 57, which consists of part of Sumner and Wilson Counties. Her email address is email@example.com. She is serving in her second term in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Her work includes serving on the House Commerce Committee, House Government Operations Committee, as well the Republican House Ethics and Lobbying Task Force.
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