Both the House and Senate versions of the bill restrict gifts from lobbyists to legislators, more clearly define conflicts of interest and establish tougher penalties for violations. Economic disclosure statements for legislators and other government officials would also be more comprehensive. But the Senate’s version gives more power to a central state ethics board, which exists now only due to an executive order. The Senate version also bans lobbyists from contributing to state candidates, which some legal experts have argued is unconstitutional.
However, the Senate legislation offers more exemptions and loopholes regarding when lobbyists or groups interested in public policy could offer gifts, which House members have raised serious questions about. The term “gift” is more narrowly defined in the Senate bill, essentially allowing legislators to avoid reporting gifts from anyone who isn’t a lobbyist or lobbyist employer. Lobbyists could also give to legislators when the gift is received as part of a personal relationship. The Senate did decide to reinsert language making clear that legislative liaisons in state agencies also are subject to the gift giving restrictions.
House Majority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said House and Senate negotiators have significant differences to work through in the coming days. The most difficult differences are likely to be the powers of the ethics board and how to craft no-gift ban provisions, he said. Hackney said a bill that had imperfections when it went to the Senate has even more on its return, but he promised legislators would pass a final reform bill before leaving