Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Proposed Pennsylvania Public Integrity Commission

from the inbox:

Well-publicized scandals in recent years involving elected officials throughout Pennsylvania have prompted a bipartisan, bicameral group of state lawmakers to take action. State Reps. Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery), Curt Schroder (R-Chester), Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Eugene DePasquale (D-York), along with Senators Ted Erickson (R-Delaware/Chester) and John Yudichak (D-Carbon/Luzerne/Monroe), are sponsoring legislation to create a Pennsylvania Public Integrity Commission (PIC) to crack down on corruption and restore public confidence in their government officials.

“This legislation is a critically important part of our bipartisan efforts to restore the public’s trust in our state government,” said Shapiro. “Establishing a Public Integrity Commission is vital to improving transparency and will help eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in our Commonwealth.”

“Pennsylvania government has a long history of corruption and it has taken an enormous toll on the public’s confidence in their elected leaders,” said Schroder. “It is time to take control of this situation. By establishing a Public Integrity Commission, we can hold public officials accountable for their actions, and perhaps even deter ethical wrongdoing before it starts.”

The lawmakers unveiled their plan at a news conference this morning at the state Capitol. Companion bills in the House and Senate would establish an independent government agency responsible for monitoring and investigating the actions of public officials throughout the Commonwealth to determine whether they are engaging in unlawful activity in connection with the public office they hold or for which they work.

House Bill 1200 and Senate Bill 625 call for the creation of a seven-member PIC with professional investigatory staff to respond to complaints and seek out corruption where it exists. To help insulate PIC members from the political process, they would be nominated by a committee consisting of law school deans, district attorneys and good government advocates. Of the 15 nominated, the governor would choose seven, subject to confirmation by two-thirds of the state Senate.

The PIC would replace the current state Ethics Commission, absorbing its budget and responsibilities, and assuming an expanded role. The PIC would employ trained, certified law enforcement personnel with the authority to enforce laws related to public corruption. The commission would have the power to subpoena records and witnesses relevant to an investigation. It would also possess the authority to grant immunity and compel testimony – authority not now available to the state Ethics Commission.

“This legislation adds muscle to existing efforts to investigate corruption and to more strongly discourage such activity,” said Erickson. “The minority of public officials who engage in unlawful activity taints the concept of representative government throughout the Commonwealth. Public officials, and the citizens they represent, need to know that unethical behavior will bring about a thorough investigation and clear consequences. The Public Integrity Commission would have the power to do just that.”

“Unfortunately, the actions of a few have tainted people’s perception of state government,” Vereb said. “As a former cop, I realize the importance of having an agency with law enforcement powers to investigate ethics violations and government corruption. The PIC is a step in the right direction to change the business-as-usual attitude of Harrisburg.”

“If we do this right, then we will fight to instill a culture of integrity and openness,” Yudichak said. “And we will work to back our reform proposals with the resources necessary to implement them.”

“I commend the bipartisan nature of this group,” DePasquale said. “While we are aware we have real problems and real differences, this coalition stands strong on one issue – and that is regaining the trust of the people of Pennsylvania.”

Shapiro represents the 153rd Legislative District in Montgomery County. For more information, visit www.pahouse.com/Shapiro.

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