Senator Chris Brown will sponsor a bipartisan package of ethics proposals to strengthen restrictions on lobbying, enhance financial disclosure requirements, and increase transparency in the legislative process.
Sen. Chris Brown will sponsor a bipartisan package of ethics proposals to strengthen restrictions on lobbying, enhance financial disclosure requirements, and increase transparency in the legislative process. (SenateNJ.com)
“What’s the difference between the Jersey Devil and ethics reform in New Jersey? Up until now, you had a better chance of spotting the Jersey Devil,” said Brown. “Hopefully, working in a bipartisan manner with Governor Phil Murphy and my legislative colleagues Senator and former Governor Dick Codey and Assemblyman Ryan Peters, we will change that. Cleaning up greed and corruption in Trenton is something we – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – can all agree on. We need to loosen the grip special interests have on state government by increasing transparency and making government more accountable to our working families and retirees.”
The five bills contained in the package will address the following:
- Lobbying Reform: The bill will require lobbying firms and companies that hire lobbyists to disclose when they hire a person or firm to provide professional services other than lobbying. This bill will also reduce the threshold for individuals to register as governmental affairs agents from 20 hours of lobbying activities per calendar year to one hour per calendar year.
- Eliminating Legislative Exemption to OPRA: The bill will remove the very broad legislative exemption to OPRA that exempts all communications for the use of a legislative member in the course of their official duties. Eliminating this exemption ensures that the executive branch and legislative branch would operate under the same rules. The Legislature would still have access to the advisory, consultative, or deliberative privilege that exists pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.
- Aligning Gift and Outside Income Rules: Currently, legislators and legislative staff are permitted to accept gifts as long as they do not know or have reason to believe that the gift is offered to them to influence the performance of their public duties or responsibilities. This bill would subject legislators and legislative staff to the same standard that currently governs executive branch employees, who are prohibited from accepting any gift related in any way to the employee’s public duties. Additionally, this bill will also prevent high-level legislative staff from receiving outside income unless they seek review and approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards. Under current state law, designated senior staff members in the Governor’s Office cannot receive outside income unless they seek review and approval by the State Ethics Commission. Lastly, the bill will require legislators and all executive and legislative branch employees earning $100,000 or more per year to fill out the detailed financial disclosure form promulgated by the State Ethics Commission.
- Extending the Cooling Off Period: New Jersey’s “cooling off” period, which statutorily applies to the Governor, Cabinet, and legislators, is currently one year, meaning those officials must wait a full year after leaving their jobs before being able to register as lobbyists. The bill extends this cooling off period from one year to two years and applies it to all executive and legislative branch staff earning $100,000 or more per year as a matter of law. A number of states, including New York, Colorado, and Alabama, have two-year prohibitions, partially based on the rationale that a two-year cooling off period ensures that a former official will not be lobbying during the same legislative session when they were in office.
- Legislative Transparency: The legislative proposal will require bills or resolutions not to be voted on unless their final form has been made publicly available on the Legislature’s website for 72 full hours preceding the vote. This legislative proposal will also require the disclosure of all organizations or individuals who submit testimony supporting or opposing bills or resolutions.
“For too long, our ethics laws have fallen short of the standards we should expect of our elected officials. Governor Murphy’s new comprehensive ethics reforms will help build confidence in our political process and ensure State government works for New Jersey families, not powerful special interests. I’m looking forward to sponsoring these new bills to bring some much-needed accountability to Trenton,” Brown said.