RALEIGH, N.C. — Ethics were a hot topic on Wednesday in Raleigh. A new bill is scheduled to go to the State Senate and Gov. Mike Easley announced his own ethics reform proposal.
House Speaker Jim Black is under investigation for possible campaign finance violations. The controversy drove Black to appoint an ethics committee. Its recommendations helped shape a House bill that would clarify and toughen ethics laws.
The House ethics bill bans most gifts from lobbyists. It also opens the door to criminal charges if an executive branch official lies about conflicts of interest.
Easley said Wednesday his proposal for an outside ethics board to monitor legislators would increase public faith in government and make members of all three branches in government abide by the same rules.
His suggestions to strengthen the existing State Board of Ethics, make it a felony to lie on economic disclosure statements and ban gifts from lobbyists, will be filed as a bill soon by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland.
"These measures will help ensure the public's trust that we have the highest ethical standards that people do and should expect in North Carolina," Easley told reporters in formally unveiling his proposal. "This pact will make sure there are meaningful penalties for those who betray the public trust."
Under the proposal, developed in part by ethics board chairman Robert Farmer, the Legislature would cede its power to investigate possible ethics lapses by its members to a stronger ethics board.
The board would continue to oversee the behavior of the governor and other executive branch members and would also expand to cover personnel within the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Judges still would be examined by the Judicial Standards Commission.
The idea of a unified ethics board runs counter to House bills considered this week that would keep executive and legislative ethics monitoring separate.