There’s a lot that Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wants to get done this year, but in order to change the state’s election laws she’ll need the help of Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport.
McKinney, who succeeded former Sen. Louis DeLuca of Woodbury back in 2007, has been adding an amendment calling for the creation of a bipartisan ethics committee to any bill coming out of the General Administration and Elections Committee, which has jurisdiction over election laws.
The amendment creates a bipartisan ethics committee, similar to the one that came close to censuring DeLuca back in 2007 before he resigned. DeLuca admitted to asking a man with mafia-ties to beat up his granddaughter’s husband because he thought she was being abused.
A lot has happened since the end of 2007.
One of the two Democratic Senators, who McKinney and his Republican colleagues have said should be investigated by an ethics committee, resigned after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Sen. Thomas Gaffey of Meriden plead guilty last month to larceny and was previously fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission for double-billing the state and his own political action committee for expenses related to his attendance at legislative conferences, and Sen. Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge was fined $4,000 for violating state election laws related to his 2008 re-election campaign.
In an interview Friday McKinney said he hasn’t thought a lot about his strategy for this legislative session, but still firmly believes the Senate should have an ethics committee, or at the very least, a Code of Conduct.
“There are things that go beyond the reach of the Office of State Ethics,” McKinney said.
But he said he spoke with Merrill Thursday about her proposed technical changes to election laws and doesn’t think there will be any problems moving forward with those pieces of legislation.
Merrill said she’s looking at drafting two bills dealing with technical changes to the state’s election laws. Changes to language regarding the old lever voting machines to the new optical scan machines is top on the list.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, co-chairwoman of the GAE Committee, said she’s happy to hear that since she’s heard New York may be sued because it still has the old lever voting technology listed in its statutes.
Despite the concession on technical changes to election laws, McKinney maintains his position that the legislature still needs a process for self-policing. He said in 2007 when they agreed to form a bipartisan committee to investigate DeLuca, “clearly we believe the Democrats at their word that we would establish an ethics committee.”
He said he’s disappointed there’s been no movement on the issue for at least the past two years.
But Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, has been asked by Democratic leadership to come up with a bill that outlines a Code of Conduct for Senators.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Friday that Meyer will be doing the research and compiling a list of what other states do concerning a Code of Conduct.
He said he doesn’t know how much further the Senate really should go with this since the state already has a code of ethics , an Office of State Ethics , a State Elections Enforcement Commission, and the public integrity division of the state Attorney’s office.
In the case of Sen. Gaffey, Williams said there was no need for an investigation because he resigned.
DeLuca only resigned after it became clear the bipartisan Ethics Committee may come close to censuring him.
McKinney said the Republicans have an Ethics Committee bill, which they hope to raise again this year. He insisted the issue is not going to go away.
Meanwhile, Merrill is also looking at drafting a voter integrity bill to make sure cities and towns order enough ballots and avoid the debacle that happened last year in Bridgeport. Merrill envisions the secretary of state having 30 days to review and approve the number of ballots ordered by the local registrar of voters. Currently the secretary of the state has no power to oversee the ordering of ballots.