PA House Ethics Rewrites Clear Up 'Hazy' Areas

Jan 5, 2017

The east facade of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building is seen on Monday, Sept. 25, 2006, in Harrisburg, Pa.
Credit Carolyn Kaster / AP

The state House has passed a resolution that makes significant changes to its ethics rules.

Scott Petri, a Bucks County Republican and former chair of the Ethics Committee, said the updates have been in the works for the past two years and provide some very necessary clarification. 

He also said it’s conceivable the new rules could have prevented a recent debacle surrounding Democratic Representative Leslie Acosta.

She secretly pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March, kept her seat and then finally resigned on Tuesday after being reelected.

Petri said that now, the committee can request a resolution for a member to step down if they’ve pled or been found guilty. The House could then vote that member out.

Previous rules allowed members to keep their seats until sentencing.

“The old rule was just a little hazy in some spots,” Petri said. “So this is a substantial rewrite.”

Petri said another important change is the clarification of burden of proof in ethics investigations—the committee must now find “clear and convincing evidence” of misconduct.

There’s also a measure intended to cut down on political manipulation of ethics rules. Petri said the committee is now blocked from investigating a member within 60 days of an election in which they’re a candidate.

“Experience demonstrated that the number of complaints seem to rise within that 30 to 60 day period,” he said. “I don’t think you’d ever want that process to be used to corrupt or influence the result of an election.”

The resolution passed on Tuesday—the first day of the new legislative session—in a bipartisan vote.

Several non-ethics-related rules changes were also included.