Christine Stuart photo

Standing on the north side of the Capitol where she took the oath of office in 2004, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed an ethics bill Wednesday, calling it the “crowning glory of four years of hard work.”

“Connecticut can lay claim to the toughest ethics laws in the nation,” Rell proclaimed. She said the legislation that passed last week during a special session of the General Assembly is a “coup” and “long overdue.”

The version of the bill that Rell signed Wednesday would make it a crime to fail to report a bribe, bars chiefs of staff from soliciting campaign contributions from staff, limits the value of gifts given to elected officials, and allows a judge to reduce or revoke the pension of an elected official or a state or municipal employee.

The bill is not retroactive and does not affect the pension of former Gov. John G. Rowland, who served time in a federal prison for taking gifts from state contractors in exchange for access to his office.

The bill goes into effect on Oct. 1. Rell said that during the next few months “we’ll be getting the message out that if you’re using your office for personal gain, you will be held accountable.”

“In this participatory government—in this greatest form of government on earth—we do indeed represent the will of the people who elected us,” Rell said. “They have a right to hold us to the very highest ethical standards—and we have a duty and an obligation to live up to those standards.”

However, the legislation likely won’t prevent all future ethical transgressions. “You’ll never prevent human nature from being human nature,” Rell said.

Rell was joined at the bill signing by the mayors of Newington, Manchester, and Middletown, and a handful of legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle who helped get the law passed.

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said it took tenacity to get it through. “Time is how to make change and we did it,” Caruso said, also admitting that in the proces he didn’t make many friends. But he says that’s not the reason he came to the Capitol.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the bill “demands accountability.” Sen. John McKinney, R-Southport, said the “most important change” is in the public’s trust. He said the bill should begin to restore the trust in government.