Two measures that would ban cash gifts to lawmakers and other public officials cleared the Senate.
The bill, SB 1327, and the resolution, SR 339, were introduced just last month after reports of Philadelphia lawmakers accepting cash from a lobbyist. SR 339 bans gifts to senators and is effective immediately. SB 1327 would ban gifts to all elected officials and state employees. The other difference between the bill and the resolution is that the bill would carry the weight of the law, so violators could be prosecuted. The resolution calls for a civil penalty.
Under the measures, cash gifts would be defined to include U.S. or foreign currency, money orders, checks, prepaid debit or credit cards, and gift cards or certificates. Certain transactions, such as commercial loans, family gifts and random drawings, are exempt.
The sponsor of the legislation, state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said on the Senate floor that she hoped “an ugly problem is about to yield a respectable solution.” The state House of Representatives is expected to approve the bill.
Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a lobbyist, while working undercover for the state Attorney General’s Office, allegedly gave cash to state lawmakers from Philadelphia in 2010.
The lobbyist allegedly gave Democratic state Reps. Ronald G. Waters $7,650; Vanessa Brown, $4,000; Michelle Brownlee, $3,500; and Louise Bishop, $1,500.
According to the report, when the lobbyist gave the lawmakers the cash, he could be heard on recordings asking them to vote against certain bills. Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to prosecute, saying the investigation started before she took office.
An amendment to the bill added in the Senate also would define “commercial loans made during the ordinary course of business” as a loan from a bank or other financial institution on terms generally available to the public.
The legislation also would exempt “transactions involving a reasonable consideration of equal or greater value.”
For its part, the House bipartisan management committee, which consists of the top two leaders in each caucus and the speaker, approved a rule that bans cash gifts to House members. It is also expected to approve the Senate legislation.
— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly