Topic:
ETHICS CODE; LEGISLATORS; LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES;
Location:
CODE OF ETHICS; LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES;

OLR Research Report


January 14, 2008

 

2008-R-0049

LEGISLATIVE CODES OF CONDUCT

By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

Kristin Sullivan, Associate Analyst

You asked for a summary of legislative codes of conduct over which legislative ethics committees have jurisdiction. You are interested in only those states that have (1) a state ethics commission with jurisdiction over legislators and legislative staff and (2) at least one chamber with a legislative ethics committee or the authority to convene one.

SUMMARY

We identified 18 states that meet your query. These include states with both a formal “code of legislative conduct” and those that specify prohibited legislative conduct (aside from rules on decorum) in their rules or in state statute without formally organizing them in a code of conduct. Table 1 consists of a summary of the codes or prohibited conduct by state and, where appropriate, by legislative chamber.

Seven of the 18 states (Alaska, California (Senate), Florida, Massachusetts (House), Mississippi, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) have formal codes of legislative conduct that their legislative ethics committees enforce. In the remaining states, the committees have jurisdiction over the state's ethics code or other laws or rules governing legislators' conduct. Some of these states (e.g., Alabama and Oregon) define the misconduct over which the committees have control and others (e.g., Georgia and Kansas) do not.

Table 1: Legislative Codes of Conduct and Prohibited Conduct

Alabama

Senate (SR 48(23))

No formal legislative code of conduct. The rules authorize the Senate Ethics and Conduct Committee to consider and act upon complaints alleging misconduct. Under the rule, “misconduct” means any conduct:

n constituting a legal wrong that materially impairs the ability of the member to perform the duties of his or her office or substantially impairs public confidence in the legislature;

n that intentionally violates any Senate Rule in the conduct of Senate business, whether official or unofficial business;

n that violates any provision of the state ethics law;

n prohibited by the Constitution of Alabama of 1901; and

n that constitutes sexual harassment.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is the basis for employment decisions, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In determining whether alleged conduct constitutes sexual harassment, the committee must look at the record as a whole and the totality of the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. The determination of the legality of a particular action will be made from the facts, on a case by case basis.

Intentionally filing a false complaint with the committee or filing a complaint in reckless disregard of the truth also constitutes misconduct.

Alaska

Joint (AS 24.60)

The joint Legislative Ethics Committee is responsible for administering the Legislative Ethics Code (AS 24.60 et seq.), which is set out in statute and applies to legislators, most legislative branch employees, and the committee's five public members. The committee receives and investigates complaints alleging code violations.

Generally, the Legislative Ethics Code contemplates:

n prohibitions related to conflicts of interest and unethical conduct,

n restrictions on fund raising,

n restrictions on employee candidacies,

n open meeting guidelines,

n outside employment,

n financial disclosure,

n gifts, and

n nepotism.

In addition, the code prohibits a legislator from:

n directly or indirectly subjecting a person to reprisal, harassment, or discrimination if that individual reports to the committee or another government entity conduct he or she reasonably believes is a violation of state law, or

n engaging in acts of employment discrimination.

California

Senate Assembly Handbook

The Standards of Conduct of the Senate apply to each member, officer, and employee of the chamber. Examples follow.

Each member of the Senate:

n when acting in a position of leadership, should exercise his or her power and carry out his or her responsibility so as to enhance reasoned and visible decision making by the Senate;

n has an obligation to treat every officer and employee of the Senate with fairness and without discrimination, and to ensure that each officer and employee performs only those tasks for which there is a legislative or governmental purpose;

n has an obligation to provide energetic and diligent representation;

n should be accessible to all constituents, making a special effort to attend to the concerns of those who might not otherwise be heard;

n should fairly characterize the issues confronting the Legislature and accurately inform the public regarding the conduct of his or her office;

n should perform his or her duties with courtesy and respect for both colleagues and those who may appear before them; and

n should act with due regard for the general welfare of the people of California in exercising the power of confirmation.

Each member, officer, and employee of the Senate:

n has an obligation to exercise his or her independent judgment on behalf of the people of California, rather than for any personal gain or private benefit;

n should not accept anything from anyone that would interfere with the exercise of his or her independent judgment;

n should not accept outside employment that is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his or her duties;

n should not use the prestige of his or her office or position for material or financial gain or private benefit;

n has an obligation to be informed and prepared, recognizing all sides of an issue;

n when intervening on behalf of a constituent with any governmental agency should make every effort to ensure that decisions affecting any constituent are made on their merits and in a fair and equitable manner;

n has an obligation to the public and to his or her colleagues to be informed about, and abide by, the rules that govern the proceedings of the Senate and the Legislature;

n when exercising oversight functions with respect to any governmental agency, should act in an informed fashion, with attention to the underlying policies being implemented and with due respect for the independence of the agency;

n has an obligation to make proper use of public funds;

n is prohibited from using state resources for personal or campaign purposes;

n is free to volunteer for, and participate in, campaign activities on his or her own time, but no officer or employee of the Senate may be intimidated, coerced, or compelled, as a condition of continued appointment or employment, to either volunteer time or contribute money to a candidate or campaign;

n shall uphold the Constitution of California and the Constitution of the United States, and shall adhere to the spirit and the letter of the laws, rules, and regulations governing officeholder conduct;

n shall conduct himself or herself in the performance of his or her duties in a manner that each does not discredit the Senate; and

n is encouraged to report to the proper authority any apparent and substantial violation of these standards, or related statutes, regulations, and rules, and to consult with the Senate Committee on Legislative Ethics, or any other appropriate governmental agency, regarding the propriety of any conduct.

Each officer and employee of the Senate has an obligation to provide energetic and diligent service on behalf of the Senate, with due consideration for the interests of all of the people of California, and to perform his or her properly assigned duties using his or her best judgment with diligence and a duty of loyalty to the Senate as an institution.

Assembly (AR 22.5)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Assembly Legislative Ethics Committee investigates and makes findings and recommendations concerning Assembly members' violations of the state Code of Ethics or any other provision of law or legislative rule that governs the conduct of members, collectively referred to as “standards of conduct” in the rules.

Florida

Senate

The Senate Rules Committee receives and investigates complaints alleging a violation by a member of the rules regulating legislative conduct and ethics (SR 1.41). Examples of the rules follow.

n Senators cannot (1) accept anything that will improperly influence their official act, decision, or vote (SR 1.36), (2) allow their personal employment to impair their independence of judgment in the exercise of their official duties (SR 1.37), or (3) use their influence as a senator in any matter that involves substantial conflict between their personal interest and their duties in the public interest (SR 1.38).

n Senators must conduct themselves to justify the confidence placed in them by the people and, by personal example and admonition to colleagues, shall maintain the integrity and responsibility of their office (SR 1.35).

n During any regular legislative session, extended session, or special session, a senator may not directly or indirectly solicit, cause to be solicited, or accept any contribution on behalf of either the Senator's own campaign, any political committee, any committee of continuous existence, any political party, or the campaign of any candidate for the Senate; however, a senator may contribute to the Senator's own campaign (SR 1.361(1)).

n Senators must disclose any personal, private, or professional interest in a bill that would inure to their special private gain or the special gain of any principal to whom they are obligated. They must file the disclosure with the secretary of the Senate for reporting in the Journal immediately following the record of the vote on the measure. The disclosure may explain the logic of voting or of their disqualification (SR 1.39).

Georgia

Joint (JR 1)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee receives and investigates complaints alleging a conflict between the private interests of a member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, or an employee of the legislative branch, and his or her duties as an employee or elected official.

Hawaii

Senate (SR 72)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate president may appoint a committee to investigate allegations against members of misconduct, disorderly behavior, or neglect of duty.

House (HR 28)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The House speaker may appoint a committee to investigate allegations against members of misconduct, disorderly conduct, neglect of duty, violation of chapter 84 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, or violation of the rules. Chapter 84 includes the Code of Ethics and mandatory ethics training.

Kansas

Senate (SR 77)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate Select Committee investigates allegations of misconduct.

House (HR 4901 and 4902)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The House Select Committee investigates allegations of misconduct.

Louisiana

Senate (SR 17.1 et seq.)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion considers resolutions seeking to take disciplinary action against or expel members.

House (HR 15.1 et seq.)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion considers resolutions seeking to take disciplinary action against or expel members on the following grounds:

n commission or conviction of a felony, or malfeasance or gross misconduct while in office (LA Const. Art. 10 24) or

n disorderly conduct or contempt (LA Const. Art. 3 7).

Maine

Senate (SR 201)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate president appoints a Committee on Conduct and Ethics. The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices is responsible for receiving, investigating, and making advisory recommendations to the Senate concerning apparent violations of the statutes on legislative ethics (Title 1, Chapter 25). The committee is responsible for imposing penalties. The statutes on legislative ethics cover conflicts of interest, gifts and honoraria, and campaign contributions, among other things.

House (HR 201)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate president appoints a Committee on Ethics. The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices is responsible for receiving, investigating, and making advisory recommendations to the House concerning apparent violations of the statutes on legislative ethics (Title 1, Chapter 25). The committee is responsible for imposing penalties.

Massachusetts

Senate (SR 10-12A)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules receives all allegations of rule violations and questions of conduct of members, officers, and employees (SR 12A). Examples of prohibited activities contained in the rules, but not in a formal code of conduct, follow.

n No Senate member, officer, or employee shall:

(1) use or attempt to use improper means to influence an agency, board, authority, or commission of the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof (SR 10);

(2) employ anyone from state funds who does not perform tasks which contribute to the work of the Senate and which are commensurate with the compensation received (SR 10A);

(3) use confidential information gained in the course of or by reason of his or her official position or activities to further his or her own financial interest or those of any other person (SR 10); or

(4) receive compensation or permit compensation to accrue to his or her beneficial interest by virtue of influence improperly exerted from his or her position in the Senate and every reasonable effort shall be made to avoid situations where it might appear that he or she is making such use of his or her official position (SR 10).

n Members, officers, and employees should avoid accepting or retaining an economic interest or opportunity which represents a threat to their independence of judgment (SR 10).

n No officer or full-time employee of the Senate shall engage in any outside business activity during regular business hours, whether the Senate is in session or not.  All employees of the Senate are assumed to be full-time unless their personnel record indicates otherwise (SR 10A).

House (HR 16A)

n While members, officers, and employees should not be denied those opportunities available to all other citizens to acquire and retain private, economic and other interests, members, officers, and employees should exercise prudence in any and all such endeavors and make every reasonable effort to avoid transactions, activities, or obligations, which are in substantial conflict with or will substantially impair their independence of judgment.

n No member, officer, or employee may:

(1) solicit or accept any compensation or political contribution other than that provided for by law for the performance of official legislative duties;

(2) serve as a legislative agent regarding any legislation before the General Court;

(3) receive any compensation or permit any compensation to accrue to his or her beneficial interest by virtue of influence improperly exerted from his or her official position in the House;

(4) accept employment or engage in any business or professional activity, which will require the disclosure of confidential information gained in the course of, and by reason of, his or her official position;

(5) willfully and knowingly disclose or use confidential information gained in the course of his or her official position to further his or her own economic interest or that of any other person, employ anyone from public funds who does not perform tasks which contribute substantially to the work of the House and which are commensurate with the compensation received; and no officer or full-time employee of the House shall engage in any outside business activity during regular business hours, whether the House is in session or not. All employees of the House are assumed to be full-time unless their personnel record indicates otherwise;

(6) accept or solicit compensation for non-legislative services which is in excess of the usual and customary value of such services;

(7) accept or solicit an honorarium for a speech, writing for publication, or other activity from any person, organization, or enterprise having a direct interest in legislation or matters before any agency, authority, board, or commission of the Commonwealth which is in excess of the usual and customary value of such services;

(8) knowingly accept any gifts with an aggregate value of $100 or more in a calendar year from any legislative agent;

(9) accept any gift of cash from any person or entity having a direct interest in legislation before the General Court; or

(10) violate the confidentiality of any proceeding before the ethics committee.

n Except where authorized, no member shall cast a vote for any other member, nor shall any officer or employee vote for any member, except that the Clerk or an assistant Clerk may record a vote for a member who votes late, or is prohibited from voting from his desk due to a malfunction of the electronic roll call voting machine; provided the Clerk's action shall not be construed as voting for said member.

n No member shall use profane, insulting, or abusive language in the course of public debate in the House Chamber or in testimony before any committee of the General Court.

n No member shall convert campaign funds to personal use in excess of reimbursements for legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures. Members shall consider all proceeds from testimonial dinners and other fund raising activities as campaign funds.

n No member shall serve on any committee or vote on any question in which his or her private right is immediately concerned, distinct from the public interest.

Mississippi

House (HR 63B)

n No member, officer, or employee of the House may:

(1) accept employment or engage in any business or professional activity which will require him to disclose confidential information which he has gained by reason of his official position or authority;

(2) improperly disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties nor use such information to further his personal interests;

(3) use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others; or

(4) use for private gain any information not available to the public at large and acquired by him solely by virtue of his position, and no information described in this subsection shall be disclosed by a member to others for purposes of their use for private gain.

n Each member of the House shall file with the Mississippi Ethics Commission the statement of economic interest or any other statement required to be filed and sign under oath as to the accuracy and completeness of the information set forth to the best knowledge of the person submitting such statement.

n Any member who undertakes to represent or to intervene for any person for compensation before any state agency shall file a statement with the Ethics Committee within 30 days after undertaking said representation. Such statement shall identify the person represented and the nature of the business involved; provided, however, that this provision shall not apply where such representation (a) involves only the uncontested or routine actions of administrative officers or employees of the state in issuing or renewing a license, charter, certificate or similar document and (b) is before the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission.

Missouri

Senate SR 28 (13)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate Committee on Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions, and Ethics must (1) consider and report on all rules for the government of the Senate and joint rules when requested by the Senate; (2) consider, examine, and report upon all matters and bills referred to it relating to ethics and the conduct of public officials and employees; (3) recommend to the Senate the rules by which investigations and disciplinary proceedings will be conducted; and (4) examine and report on all resolutions and other matters which may be appropriately referred to it.

House (HR 4)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The House Ethics Committee may consider and report on complaints referred to it relating to the commission of a crime, misconduct, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, or a member's unethical conduct.

“Misconduct” means:

n any conduct constituting a legal or moral wrong that materially impairs the member's ability to perform the duties of his office or substantially impairs public confidence in the General Assembly,

n any conduct constituting a conflict of interest under the state's ethics code, or

n the intentional filing of a false complaint or the filing of a complaint in reckless disregard of the truth.

Nevada

Senate (SR 40 (1)(f)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee has jurisdiction over administrative matters governing the state legislative department (NRS, title 17); elections (title 2); ethics in government (Chap. 281)

House (AR 23)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Assembly Committee on Ethics hears complaints on alleged breaches of ethics and conflicts of interest, brought by legislators and others, and it may advise legislators on questions of breaches of ethics and conflicts of interest.

New Jersey

Joint (Leg. Code of Ethics 1:1 et seq.)

The Legislative Code of Ethics prohibits legislators and legislative officers and employees from:

n appearing as an agent of the legislature, either chamber, or a legislative agency in connection with any private matter;

n having a job or interests that conflict with their public duties; or

n soliciting, receiving, or agreeing to receive a gift or anything of value from any source other than the state for services related to their office.

Oregon

Senate (SR 18.04)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The committee receives complaints and investigates allegations of misconduct and potential conflicts of interest as defined under the state ethics code.

“Potential conflict of interest” means any action or any decision or recommendation by a person acting in a capacity as a public official, the effect of which could be to the private pecuniary benefit or detriment of the person or the person's relative, or a business with which the person or the person's relative is associated, unless the pecuniary benefit or detriment arises out of the following:

n an interest or membership in a particular business, industry, occupation or other class required by law as a prerequisite to the holding by the person of the office or position;

n any action in the person's official capacity which would affect to the same degree a class consisting of all inhabitants of the state, or a smaller class consisting of an industry, occupation or other group including one of which or in which the person, or the person's relative or business with which the person or the person's relative is associated, is a member or is engaged (the commission may by rule limit the minimum size of or otherwise establish criteria for or identify the smaller classes that qualify under this exception); or

n membership in or membership on the board of directors of a nonprofit corporation that is tax-exempt under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code (ORS 244.020).

Pennsylvania

PSA 143.4

Members should not:

n accept employment or engage in any business or professional activity that requires them to disclose confidential information that they gain by reason of their official position or authority,

n improperly disclose confidential information they acquire in their official duties or use it to further their personal interests, or

n use or attempt to use their official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for themselves or others.

With some exceptions, no member may:

n knowingly solicit, accept, or receive any gift or compensation other than that to which he is duly entitled from the Commonwealth which is intended to influence the performance of his official duties or which would influence the performance of his official duties;

n solicit, accept, or receive any such gift or compensation for advocating the passage or defeat of any legislation or for doing any act intended to influence the passage or defeat of legislation including, in the case of a Senator or Representative, his vote thereon;

n receive compensation or any thing of economic value for any consultation, the subject matter of which (a) is devoted substantially to the responsibilities, programs, or operations of the General Assembly or (b) draws substantially upon official data or ideas which have not become part of the body of public information;

n participate as a principal in any transaction involving the Commonwealth or any Commonwealth agency in which he, his spouse or child, or any person of which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner or employee has a substantial personal economic interest as distinguished from that of a general class or general group of persons of which he may reasonably be expected to know;

n receive or agree to receive any compensation to assist any person in any transaction involving the Commonwealth or any of its officials or agencies unless he files with the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives or Secretary of the Senate, as the case may be, a written statement of the member's name and address, the name and address of the employer, whether the compensation is $1,000 or more or less than $1,000, and a brief description of the transaction and nature of services; or

n use for private gain any information not available to the public at large and acquired by him solely by virtue of his position.

West Virginia

Joint (W. Va. Code 4-5-2)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Joint Commission on Special Investigations investigates or examines any matter involving conflicts of interest, bribery of state officials, malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office by any employee or officer of the state. It also conducts comprehensive and detailed investigations to determine if any criminal or civil statutes have been violated at any level of state government.

Wisconsin

Assembly (AR 21)

No formal legislative code of conduct. The Assembly Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct hears and investigates resolutions to reprimand, censure, or expel members.

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