BY TOM HESTER SR.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) Thursday unveiled a package of bills that focus on legislative ethics that, among other things, calls for a full time Legislature and a limit of no longer than 10 years in office.
Gusciora argues that the only way to avoid outside conflicts, whether public or private, would be to have a full-time legislative body.
"At the end of the day, we are the stewards of an annual $30+ billion budget," he said. "I believe that the public needs us to devote our full attention to ensure that public dollars are spent wisely, without questions of whether any such outside involvement has influenced our decisions.
"Reluctantly, I have become a proponent of term limits," the 14-year veteran of the Legislature said. "There is no question that the system is broken and that some people down here vie for a concentration of power that is often to the detriment of the taxpayer. A 10-year limit is a responsible way to conduct business and ensure that there is fresh blood in the system."
The New Jersey Legislature already meets much longer annually than the majority of states. This year in an effort to counter proposals and actions by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the Democratic-controlled Legislature met off and on through the summer.
While Gusciora applauded Christie's ethics proposals, the Assemblyman said legislators themselves need to "help restore the public's faith in government." He called his bills "substantive" and would "augment the governor's own reform proposals."
"The first thing I would do is amend the state's Racketeering (RICO) statute to include ‘political crimes,'" Gusciora said. "Under RICO, the state can collect up to three times any amount gained as a result of a corrupt enterprise, such as a mob business that launders drug money. It can be argued that politicians, who use party machines or campaign accounts for corrupt personal gain, should also qualify under RICO. By amending the statute, corrupt officials will be on notice that they can be prosecuted under the act.''
Gusciora also proposed making it a crime to "create a no show job." He said that currently there are no penalties that explicitly prohibit that kind of action. Another proposal would require legislators to "sign a certification" right on the bills they introduce, that they would not receive any direct or indirect monetary gain as a result of the enactment of the legislation. Violations would be sent to the newly formed nonpartisan Legislative Ethics Commission. A fourth measure would enable the Legislature to "suspend" any member under indictment.
Gusciora's legislative ethics package includes the following bills:
- A.1069-Increases the penalties for no-show jobs.
- A.1073-Creates a commission to study campaign finances
- A.2544-Adds political crimes to the state's racketeering statute
- A.3255-Require legislators to certify proposed bills do not monetarily benefit them
- ACR.56-Creates a full-time legislature
- ACR-57-Suspends public officials under indictment
- ACR.122-Creates term limits for public officials