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Legislators from both parties criticize conflict of interest bill

By Johanna Somers

Publication: TheDay.com

Published March 25. 2013 7:00PM   Updated March 25. 2013 11:47PM

Hartford — Republican and Democratic legislators bashed a bill Monday that has the support of former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, saying it would make it illegal for hundreds of thousands of people in Connecticut to run for the General Assembly.

The bill would prohibit anyone who receives more than $1,000 a year from groups such as state contractors, businesses with one lobbyist or organizations in which 5 percent of the members are employed by the state or a municipality from serving as a state employee or public official. Also prohibited from serving would be anyone with an immediate family member receiving more than $1,000 from such groups.

“It’s going to cover like one million people; it is ridiculous how many people it’s going to cover the way it is written,” said state Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck.

State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Plantsville, introduced the bill.

Foley told the Government Administration and Elections Committee Monday he was supporting the bill because it is absurd for a state legislator to be on the payroll of a union or firm that lobbies the state legislator. If legislators or state employees or their family members are being paid an income by people who have an interest in state spending and public policy, and that affects how they vote on legislation, it amounts to a bribe, Foley said.

“The foxes are running the hen house,” he said.

Legislators said Foley’s proposal was overreaching, unclear and offensive.

“I don’t appreciate being referred to as a hen in a hen house,” said state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck. … “The Capitol is not a hen house, and I am not a hen.”

Legislators tried to get more explanation on the bill.

“What you are saying … is tantamount to a denial of a right to work,” state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said.

Foley said the bill wasn’t intended to “exclude good qualified people” from serving. There would have to be some carve-outs, he said.

Private universities that receive state grants are contractors, said state Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven. Therefore, professors would be excluded from serving in the state legislature, he said.

Should Yale University have to check with every single one of its employees to make sure they don’t have a brother, a sister or a mom who might be appointed to a state agency? Labriola said.

The legislation was not intended to disqualify Yale employees, Foley said.

“We are trying to figure out what we are discussing. … Your intent and language is very different,” Rebimbas said to Foley.

Markley, who helped write the bill, said he was interested in the concept of the bill and that he hoped the committee would consider it.

In the 1980s some legislative leaders were employees of the former Connecticut Bank and Trust, Markley said, adding he had no doubt that this affected how the issues were dealt with. He said he thought this bill could address that kind of conflict of interest.

Rebimbas said she is a state legislator, an attorney at her law firm and a recipient of money from the state to work for indigent people who cannot afford an attorney.

She said she expects legislators who might have a conflict of interest to recuse themselves from the situation.

“To say the people who vote for us do not have enough trust in our service up here that we would not be able to determine what would be a conflict of interest is personally insulting,” Rebimbas said.

She said Markley and Foley should revisit the bill and figure out if it addressed their true intent.

j.somers@theday.com

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