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Lobbying reform takes center stage in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Budget
The Pennsylvania state capitol building is seen. (AP/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke

Lobbying reform takes center stage in Pennsylvania

October 26, 04:00 PM October 26, 04:00 PM

A Pennsylvania House panel moved a package of bills that make new rules for lobbyists, including a quasi ban on gifts that many argue doesn’t go far enough.

The House State Government Committee approved a dozen bills Monday that strengthen registering and reporting requirements for lobbyists, further limit conflicts of interests lobbyists may hold and implements a limited gift ban for public officials and employees.

Several lawmakers said a complete gift ban – such as the one Gov. Tom Wolf implemented for officials under his jurisdiction – should apply to the Legislature, too.

“I think the governor has set the gold standard – just ban gifts,” Rep. Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia, said. “Stop with the exceptions. That sends a message to the public that we are serious about a cultural shift, and that’s what we should be doing today.”

House Bill 1009 bans public workers from receiving gifts in excess of $250 from lobbyists in a single calendar year. It also prohibits officials from accepting transportation, lodging, hospitality or recreational offerings.

“I think probably most of us would absolutely love to see a bill that had zero gifts,” Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, said. “I think that’s where we should move. I support this because it’s an incremental step in that direction.”

Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, cautioned that a total gift ban is impractical and said he’s seen evidence of the governor’s policy “being problematic.” In one instance, he recalled a deputy secretary that had to pay for a bottle of water offered to him for free after lawmakers toured a factory on a hot day.

“A cup of coffee at a meeting in the morning, that’s just being a decent human,” Diamond said. “I think that going absolute zero is a little bit too far because there are these very de minimus things we do as decent human beings.”

The bills advanced to the full House for consideration. House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville, expressed his support for the bills some 15 years after he introduced the first lobbying reform package in Harrisburg.

“I announced my support for this package earlier this session, and today is an important next step to remind the lobbying community that if they want to continue to play a role in our processes, they will be held to the highest standards,” he said.

The Senate unveiled its own set of lobbying reform bills earlier this month, though none include any sort of gift ban. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, said the measures are a “top priority” this session.

“It is important to draw a bright line between legislators, lobbyists and political consultants,” he said. “Adding the necessary layers of transparency and separation between all of these entities will help prevent conflicts of interest and ensure lobbyists and political consultants cannot play an inappropriate role in the legislative process.”

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