Senate Approves Bipartisan Ethics Reforms

Bill Would Create an Ethics Counsel, Require Consultation and Ethics Training

TRENTON – In an effort to enhance compliance with the Legislative Code of Ethics, the full Senate today approved a bipartisan measure sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey and Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos to create the position of Ethics Counsel and require that all legislators consult annually with the new advisor.

“Ethics reform has and will continue to be a top priority. Because of this, there have been many changes to our ethics laws in recent years,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex). “It’s important that we create a top-down system for promoting understanding and compliance and eliminating conflicts of interest.”

Bill S-2503 would also require officers and employees of the legislative branch to participate in annual ethics training similar to the process in place for executive branch employees. Furthermore, the bill would require legislators, officers, and employees in the legislative branch to take an online tutorial in legislative ethics no later than April 1 of each even-numbered year.

“A part-time legislature is inherently awkward and can pose difficulties. It is imperative that state Legislators and their staff have training and knowledge to properly handle judgment calls,” said Kyrillos (R-Monmouth, Middlesex). “The position of Ethics Counsel will be there to provide advice and guidance.”

The Ethics Counsel would be an attorney appointed by the Executive Director of the Office of Legislative Services who would be charged with providing informal ethics advice to legislators and staff upon request. The Ethics Counsel would also be permitted to assist legislators and staff in requesting formal advisory opinions from the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards on various subject matters.

The measure is part of a bipartisan package of bills introduced earlier this year that are aimed at restoring the public’s confidence in government and creating greater transparency and efficiency. Other bills already approved as part of this package including banning political contributions by public entities, banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators and staff, requiring greater lobbying disclosure, prohibiting the donation of campaign funds to any charity of which an elected official or a family member is a paid employee or director.

Bill S-2503, which was unanimously approved in the Assembly last week, now heads to the Governor’s desk for final passage into law.

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