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Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, speaking at a panel discussion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan that would create new qualification requirements for members of the State Ethics Commission and overhaul the appointment process was approved today by the Senate.

“The State Ethics Commission establishes and enforces ethical standards for state employees and must be impartial,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “By improving the appointment process of Commission members, this legislation will ensure that the Commission is free of political influence and will help to maintain its independence and integrity.”

The State Ethics Commission was created to administer and enforce the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law and some sections of the Casino Control Act. Under current law, the Commission is comprised of four public members and three members appointed by the Executive Branch.

The proposed bill, S-2100, would require that, of those three Executive Branch appointees, one is an officer or employee of the Division of Law in the Department of Law and Public Safety and another is an officer or employee of the Office of the State Comptroller.

The bill would also create an Appointment Advisory Panel comprised of six retired judges or retired justices of the Superior or Supreme Courts of New Jersey, with no more than three members from the same political party. Under the bill, one of the panel’s members would be appointed by the Governor, one by the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, one by the Senate President, one by the Senate Minority Leader, one by the Assembly Speaker, and the last by the Assembly Minority Leader.

Three months before the end of a commission member’s term, or five days after a vacancy, the Governor, the Attorney General, or the Commission would notify the panel of the vacancy. The panel would convene within five days of receiving notice and, within 60 days, provide a list of three possible replacement candidates to the Governor. If within ten days of receiving the list, the Governor chooses to nominate an alternative, the bill requires that appointment be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

“Removing politics from the membership selection process is critical to improving the public’s trust in the Commission’s work,” added Senator Whelan.

The bill would further require that all members of the commission and the panel be residents of the State, at the time of their appointment and during service on the commission or panel. It would take effect immediately upon passage. Six months after the effective date, all terms of current members of the commission would be terminated, but would be eligible for reappointment.

The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 35-0. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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