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Proposal Advances To Strengthen N.H. Legislature's Conflict Of Interest Rules

NHPR file

A committee in the New Hampshire House is unanimously backing a bill to require lawmakers to recuse themselves when they have a “special interest” in a bill's outcome.

This bill was drafted by Rep. Ned Gordon, a Republican who leads the legislative ethics committee. The proposal spells out that lawmakers should recuse themselves when they or a member of their household have anything more at stake in the bill's outcome than a member of the general public would.

“There are circumstances where people should be recusing themselves and they are not,” Gordon told the House Legislative Oversight Committee, prior to the committee’s final vote on the bill Wednesday. “What we are looking for is just to have good government. Good government means when you see that you have a conflict that means you should not be sitting.”

Under the proposal, lawmakers would also have to recuse themselves when an employer or client of the lawmaker or a lawmaker's household member would be materially affected by a bill, or when a bill implicated any organization where the lawmaker or household member had a fiduciary responsibility.

In November, the Legislative Ethics Committee found that House Majority Leader Doug Ley had violated ethics guidelines because of his involvement in legislation that affected the teachers union that employs him. That action by the committee helped inform this bill and a separate conflict of interest measure being considered by the state Senate.   

"This is going to be a new system,” Ley remarked before voting for the bill. “It does enhance the obligations to really be careful on this, which is not a bad thing. But it does change, I think, how people are going to have to operate."

But Democrat Rep. Janet Wall, who also sits on the ethics committee and who co-sponsored the bill, said the new standards may require some to make adjustments but predicted members would adapt.

“I see people looking a bit confused and a little concerned still, but a lot of it just has to do with being thoughtful,” Wall said.“There is no problem with a person recusing. Nobody holds it against you if you do. They just understand that you are trying to do the right thing.”

The bill now moves to the full House.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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