The General Administration and Elections Committee passed a measure Friday to adopt a code of conduct for lawmakers and create bipartisan ethics committees in both chambers.
Looking at the vote tally, with only one dissenting, one might believe the measure had near unanimous support from the committee. But the lawmakers on the committee told a different story. Many on both sides of the aisle felt the need to qualify their support in terms of just moving the thing out of committee.
Those concerns seem rooted in the belief that there are already adequate ways to address misbehavior on the part of lawmakers.
Rep. Andy Fleishmann, D-West Hartford, said he would be voting yes on the measure but had “grave concerns” about its potential impact. Establishing the committees could result in a “gotcha” environment like the one in Congress, he said, which he pointed out hasn’t been “tremendously effective.”
Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, expressed similar concerns.
“I totally disagree with this bill but I’ll vote yes to move it along,” she said.
Reps. Matthew Lesser, D-Durham, and David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, made similar statements.
But while the bill may have received some bipartisan panning, it’s also the product of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, it’s sponsor, said Senate Republican leader John McKinney has been pushing for permanent bipartisan ethics committees for years.
The push started in 2007 when Sen. Louis DeLuca resigned under threat of censure after he admitted to asking a man with ties to organized crime to rough up his granddaughter’s husband, who DeLuca believed was abusing her.
Since then McKinney, who replaced DeLuca, has been adding amendments to create the ethics committees to every bill that reached the Senate out of General Administration and Elections Committee, and none of them have passed. As a result, state statutes still include outdated references to lever voting machines, which haven’t been used in years.
But as Meyer’s bill clears committee that may change, at least temporarily. On Friday McKinney seemed pleased by the measure’s progress. He noted language used in the bill is nearly identical to the language Senate Republicans have been adding to GAE bills.
Initially he had been pushing for permanent committees but as a compromise he suggested that it be required that six-person ethics committees be formed within seven days of any member signing a sworn ethics complaint, he said. And that is how Meyer’s bill reads.
McKinney said he’s confident that if Democrat leaders in the Senate embrace the measure it will pass that chamber but said it’s tough to predict what will happen in the House.
In the meantime, McKinney said that GAE bills bound for the Senate won’t be getting the ethics-related amendments. But if the bill fails? We’ll just have to wait and see, he said.
“I hope this bill will become law,” he said. “If not, we may have to revisit it. But this is a positive step.”