The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved two measures Wednesday to help discourage members of the Legislature from voting on bills that could personally or financially benefit them. Sen. Andrew Rice, author of SJR 53 and SB 1671, says his bills are an effort to keep members honest while at the same time helping increase public trust in the legislative process.
“Unfortunately, public trust in our government is very low. With these bills, I’m trying to refine our laws to show the public that members will be held accountable for their actions should they choose to vote on measures that are clearly a conflict of interest for them,” said Rice, D-Oklahoma City. “By creating a penalty for this type of violation, I believe we can avoid members acting in their own interest when voting on legislation and restore the public’s faith that we are working only in their best interest.”
SJR 53 would amend the state constitution to create more specific guidelines for legislators to determine whether or not a personal or private interest is in fact a legal conflict of interest. A legislator would have to consider whether the interest impedes his or her independence of judgment; the effect of the member’s participation on public confidence in the integrity of the Legislature; and the effect of the lack of representation of the member’s constituents if he or she refrains from voting on the legislation.
If the public approved the constitutional amendment found in SJR 53, SB 1671 would create a penalty for those legislators found not disclosing a conflict of interest on a measure and voting on the bill, which personally or privately benefitted them. Currently, there is no punishment for legislators who vote on legislation that benefits them. Under SB 1671, violators would be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary up to ten years, by a fine no greater than $50,000 or three times the amount of the gain the legislator garnered from the approved legislation, by both fine and imprisonment. SB
1671 also would allow the Legislature to determine rules of its proceedings to provide sanctions against members found in violation of this law.