- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Legislation to punish lawmakers and government officials for accepting cash gifts from anyone seeking to influence public policy passed the Pennsylvania state Senate on Wednesday, although it would not change a policy that allows lawmakers and the governor to accept non-cash gifts of any value.

The Senate’s unanimous vote follows allegations last month in a Philadelphia Inquirer report that several House members accepted cash from a confidential informant in a criminal investigation.

The bill was sent to the House, where leaders last week imposed a ban on cash gifts to the chamber’s members and employees. A spokesman for the House’s Republican majority said the bill will be reviewed, but GOP leaders made no immediate commitment to passing it.

The Senate’s State Government Committee chairman, Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said he is committed to exploring how to strengthen Pennsylvania’s ethics laws for public officials. He noted that the state’s newspaper editorial pages have skewered ethics rules for lawmakers and state officials and that it reflects a lack of trust of state government.

“There’s one way for us to turn this around, taking direct and decisive action,” Smucker said in his comments on the Senate floor.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, seemed to agree that further changes are warranted.

“People believe, rightly, and we must acknowledge, that the work of reform is far finished,” she said in a statement. “There is every reason for us to act on other reforms with the same sense of purpose and demonstration of responsibility in evidence on this measure.”

The bill would apply to cash, check, money orders, prepaid cards, gift certificates and gift cards.

Under it, lawmakers and government officials and employees who accept a cash gift of $250 or more from anyone seeking to influence public policy would face a felony and up to five years in prison. Amounts less than that would be a misdemeanor.

Some legislators have called for additional restrictions in the broader ethics law that lets lawmakers and the governor accept any amount of non-cash gifts, such as dinners, trips or event tickets, from anyone, although such gifts could violate conflict-of-interest laws.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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