Commission proposed to investigate government corruption
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG — A bipartisan group of legislators has decided to tackle a huge issue — how to restore the public’s faith in government, which in recent years has been rocked by judicial scandals, criminal charges against lawmakers, state budget deficits and disputes over pay raises.
Several Senate and House members, both Republican and Democratic, held a news conference today to announce a push for creating a Public Integrity Commission, a seven-member body named by the governor, based on nominees from a panel that includes district attorneys, law school deans and citizens advocates.
The panel would be paid for by making permanent a $2 surcharge now levied on court filings, estimated to generate $5 million a year. The panel members, who would have to be confirmed by the Senate, would have power to investigate alleged corruption in state, county and local government.
Restoring public faith in government at all levels “isn’t a partisan matter,” said Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, the author of the bill. “It belongs to all of us. We must root out those who would corrupt government.”
Referring to arrests in the Bonusgate scandal, the furor over the 2005 pay raise and a judicial scandal in Luzerne County, Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, said, “I’m tired of the corruption and I’m tired of the newspaper headlines.”
The bill is numbered House Bill 1200 and will be considered either by the House Judiciary or House State Government Committee, but the date for discussion isn’t known yet. A companion measure, House Bill 1229, would extend an existing court filing fee surcharge of $11.25 per document, with $2 going to fund the integrity commission. The rest goes to the courts for computer system upgrades.
There could be criticism of the bill for expanding the state government bureaucracy, but supporters said the current Ethics Commission would basically be rolled into the new agency. The PIC would have law enforcement investigators on staff to look into allegations of corruption, but any charges would have to be filed by district attorneys or the state attorney general.
Leaders of the House and Senate haven’t taken a position on the bill yet, but leaders of several citizens groups, such as Democracy Rising PA, Rock the Capital, the Commonwealth Foundation and Common Cause attended the news conference in support of the two bills.
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