PA 08-3, June 11, 2008 Special Session—HB 6502
AN ACT CONCERNING COMPREHENSIVE ETHICS REFORMS
SUMMARY: This act:
1. generally permits state courts to revoke or reduce any retirement or other benefit due to state or municipal officials or employees who commit certain crimes related to their employment;
2. makes it a class A misdemeanor for public servants to fail to report a bribe;
3. expands illegal campaign finance practices to cover certain solicitations by chiefs of staff;
4. makes several changes to state codes of ethics such as limiting gift exceptions, prohibiting state contractors from hiring certain former public officials and state employees, restricting the Office of State Ethics' (OSE) authority to issue subpoenas, prohibiting ex parte communications during OSE hearings on ethics complaints, limiting Citizens' Advisory Board members who can act on ethics complaints, and subjecting the governor's spouse to the code;
5. requires OSE to provide mandatory training to legislators on the Code of Ethics for Public Officials; and
6. requires public agencies to post, on available web sites, the meeting dates, times, and minutes that the law requires be publicly disclosed.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2008
§§ 1-5 — CORRUPT OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES
The act generally permits state courts to revoke or reduce any retirement or other benefit due to state or municipal public officials or employees or quasi-public agency members and directors who commit certain crimes related to their employment.
It requires the courts to order payment of any benefit or payment that is not revoked or reduced. It prohibits a circumstance under which its entire pension revocation or reduction provisions would be invalid. Under the act, if a court determines that any of these provisions, clauses, or phrases or any order or action by the attorney general pursuant to them are invalid, any remaining provisions, orders, or actions are unaffected and remain valid.
Exceptions to Reduction or Revocation
Under the act:
1. no revocation or reduction may prohibit or limit benefits that are the subject of a qualified domestic relations order (e. g. , child support);
2. no pension may be reduced or revoked if the IRS determines that the action will negatively affect or invalidate the status of the state's or a municipality's government retirement plans under § 401 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code; and
3. the pension benefits of a public official or employee who was convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to a crime related to state or municipal office and cooperated with the state as a whistleblower before learning of the criminal investigation may not be revoked or reduced if the court determines or the attorney general certifies that he or she voluntarily provided information about the crime to the attorney general, state auditors, or a law enforcement agency about a person more blameworthy than the official or employee.
Additionally, no pension may be revoked if the court determines that to do so would constitute a unilateral breach of a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the court may issue an order to reduce the pension by an amount necessary to (1) satisfy any fine, restitution, or other monetary order issued by the criminal court and (2) pay the cost of the official's or employee's incarceration.
Crimes Related to Office or Employment
The act requires the attorney general to apply to the Superior Court for an order to revoke or reduce the benefits of a public official or employee who, on and after October 1, 2008, is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) in federal or state court to:
1. committing or aiding or abetting the embezzlement of public funds from the state, a municipality, or a quasi-public agency;
2. committing or aiding or abetting any felonious theft from the state, a municipality, or a quasi-public agency;
3. bribery connected to his or her role as a public official or employee; or
4. felonies committed willfully and with intent to defraud to obtain or attempt to obtain an advantage for himself or herself or others through the use or attempted use of his or her office.
The attorney general must notify the prosecutor in these criminal cases of the pension revocation statute and that the pension may be used to pay any fine, restitution, or other monetary order the court issues.
“Public officials” are (1) statewide elected officers, (2) legislators and legislators-elect, (3) judges, (4) gubernatorial appointees, (5) municipal elected and appointed officials, (6) public members and union representatives on the Investment Advisory Council, (7) quasi-public agency members and directors, and (8) people appointed or elected by the General Assembly or either chamber. Advisory board members and members of Congress are not public officials.
“State employees” include employees of quasi-public agencies.
When determining whether to revoke or reduce a public official's or employee's benefits or payments, the Superior Court must consider:
1. the severity of the crime;
2. the amount of money the state, municipality, quasi-public agency, or anyone else lost as a result of the crime;
3. the degree of public trust reposed in the person by virtue of his or her position;
4. if the crime was part of a fraudulent scheme against the state or a municipality, the defendant's role in it; and
5. any other factors the court determines that justice requires.
After determining to reduce pension benefits, the court must consider the needs of an innocent spouse or beneficiary and may order that all or part of the reduced benefits be paid to the spouse or beneficiary.
If an official's or employee's pension is revoked, the act entitles the person to the return of any contributions he or she made to the pension, without interest. But, the repayment cannot be made until the court determines that the individual has fully satisfied any judgment or court-ordered restitution related to the crime against the office. If the court determines that he or she has not, it may deduct the unpaid amount from the individual's pension contributions.
Collective Bargaining Agreements
Beginning October 1, 2008, the act prohibits collective bargaining agreements from containing any provision that bars the revocation or reduction of a corrupt state or municipal employee's pension.
§§ 6 & 7 — BRIBERY
The act makes it a class A misdemeanor for public servants to fail to report a bribe (see Table on Penalties). Public servants commit this crime when they do not report to a law enforcement agency as soon as reasonably practicable that (1) they know that another person has attempted to bribe them by promising, offering, transferring, or agreeing to transfer to them any benefit as consideration for their decision, opinion, recommendation, or vote or (2) they knowingly witnessed someone attempting to bribe another public servant or another public servant committing bribe receiving. Under existing law, a person is guilty of bribe receiving if he or she solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept any benefit for, because of, or in consideration for his or her decision, opinion, recommendation, or vote.
The act expands the definition of “public servant” that applies to existing bribery and bribe receiving crimes, as well as this new crime, to include quasi-public agency officers and employees. Elected and appointed government officers and employees and people performing a government function, including advisors and consultants, are already covered.
§ 12 — CAMPAIGN FINANCE
The act makes it an illegal campaign practice for certain chiefs of staff to solicit contributions from certain people on behalf of, or for the benefit of, any state, district, or municipal office candidate. Under the act, the chief of staff (1) for a legislative caucus cannot solicit an employee of the caucus, (2) for a statewide elected official cannot solicit a member of the official's office, and (3) for the governor or lieutenant governor cannot solicit from any member of the official's office or from any state commissioner or deputy commissioner.
Under existing law, it is an illegal campaign finance practice for, among other things, state department heads and their deputies to solicit political contributions at any time, and for anyone to knowingly and willfully violate a campaign finance law. Campaign finance violators are subject to criminal penalties of up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both for knowing and willful violations. They are also subject to civil penalties of up to $2,000 per offense.
STATE ETHICS CODE
§§ 16 & 17 — Ethics Complaint Enforcement
Existing law requires OSE to conduct probable cause investigations, including hearings, when complaints of alleged ethics violations are filed. If OSE finds probable cause, it's Citizens' Advisory Board initiates a hearing to determine whether there has been a violation. A judge trial referee conducts the hearing. Both OSE and its advisory board can subpoena witnesses and records during their respective proceedings.
Subpoenas. The act restricts OSE's authority to issue subpoenas by requiring it to get (1) approval from a majority of the advisory board members or (2) the chairperson of the board to sign the subpoena. It authorizes the vice chairperson to sign the subpoena if the chairperson is unavailable.
Ex Parte Communications. During the hearing on whether a violation has occurred, the act prohibits ex parte communications about the complaint or respondent between the board or any of its members and the judge trial referee conducting the hearing or a member of OSE's staff.
Voting on Existence of Violation. By law, the Citizens' Advisory Board, at the conclusion of the hearing, determines whether a violation occurred and, if so, imposes penalties. The act restricts the board members who can vote on whether a violation occurred to those who were physically present during the entire violation hearing.
The act makes a minor change by specifying the number of board members, rather than the fraction of the board, necessary to find a violation of the State Code for Lobbyists. The act requires six of the nine board members present and voting to find a violation, rather than two-thirds of them.
§§ 13 & 14 — Gifts
With several exceptions, existing law prohibits public officials, candidates for public office, and state employees from accepting gifts (generally anything valued at over $10) from lobbyists. It prohibits public officials and state employees from accepting gifts from people doing, or seeking to do, business with their agency; people engaged in activities regulated by their agency; or prequalified state contractors. Existing law also prohibits these people from giving gifts to public officials and employees.
The act caps at $1,000 the exception for gifts provided at celebrations of major life events by people unrelated to the recipient. Major life events include a ceremony commemorating an individual's induction into religious adulthood such as a confirmation or bar or bat mitzvah, a wedding, a funeral, and the birth or adoption of a child. It does not include any event that occurs on an annual basis such as an anniversary (Conn. State Agency Regulations § 1-92-53).
§ 15 — Employment Restrictions
The act prohibits a party to a state contract or agreement from employing a former public official or state employee who substantially helped negotiate or award a contract valued at $50,000 or more or an agreement for the approval of a payroll deduction. The prohibition applies to employees or officials who resign within one year after the contract or agreement is signed and ends one year after the resignation. Existing law already prohibits former officials and employees from accepting the job. The penalty for violations is a fine of up to $10,000. First-time intentional violations are punishable by up to one year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both. Subsequent intentional violations are punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.
§§ 9 & 10 — Governor's Spouse
The act subjects the governor's spouse to the State Ethics Code by extending the definition of “public official” to include him or her. The term “public officials” already covered are statewide elected officers, legislators and legislators-elect, gubernatorial appointees, public members and union representatives on the Investment Advisory Council, quasi-public agency members and directors, and people appointed or elected by the General Assembly or either of its chambers. The term does not include judges, advisory board members, or members of Congress.
§ 8 — TRAINING
By December 31, 2010, the act requires OSE to establish and administer a program for providing mandatory training to legislators on the Code of Ethics for Public Officials. The program must provide for mandatory training of (1) newly elected legislators and (2) all legislators every four years beginning in 2011. However, the Legislative Management Committee must request OSE to train all legislators before the next regularly scheduled training if it determines that there has been a significant revision to the Code of Ethics for Public Officials.
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