It's a little hard to understand how the General Assembly can find time to meddle in local affairs like pensions for city employees and very, very local issues like subdivision building disputes but can't seem to squeeze in a bill to strengthen legislative ethics.
We're not talking about a complete overhaul of legislative ethics but some beneficial enhancements that could help improve public trust at a time when that is in short supply.
Last August, the Legislative Ethics Commission issued a set of recommendations for changes to the ethics law, a set very similar to the recommendations made before the last session of the legislature.
Among the most significant changes proposed are:
■ Prohibiting the firms or individuals that employ lobbyists as well as political action committees from making campaign contributions to a legislator or a legislative candidate during a regular session of the legisilature. This would extend the prohibition that currently applies to lobbyists. A related recommendation is to prohibit lobbyists from directly soliciting campaign contributions
■ Eliminating the $100 that each lobbyist and employer is allowed to spend annually on food and drink for each legislator. Lobbyists would still be able to entertain legislators at group events.
■ Extending the contribution restrictions on lobbyists that currently apply to members of the legislature to candidates for legislative positions.
On Jan. 3, Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown pre-filed House Bill 151 and Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, filed Senate Bill 67, incorporating most of the commission's suggestions.
And that's pretty much where the story ends.
Each bill was assigned to a committee in the respective houses, but nothing more has happened. Given that the sponsors are members of the minority party in their houses, there is very little hope that much more will happen, despite the fact that the General Assembly is doing very little else this session while members wait to see how redistricting will affect their political futures.
Idle hands, so the proverb goes, are the devil's playthings. So, strengthening the ethics laws would be a good task for legislators casting about for a useful occupation.
Considering the content of these bills — to reduce the influence of money on public policy — the members might also want to remember the more recent wisdom of convicted lobbyist and influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.
The master spoke at an ethics training session the very day these bills were filed, saying "basically, at the end of the day, any gratuity received by a public servant from anybody who is trying to get something out of that public servant is a problem."