In a preview of how senators may react to a Virginia House bill weakening the state's ethics laws, a Senate committee yesterday stripped from a resolution some inflammatory comments attacking the existing conflict-of-interest code.
The Senate Rules Committee approved a $14,460 study of the ethics code, but deleted statements that the law is "complicated and not susceptible to ready comprehension."
The five-member study panel, which would be composed of members of the House and Senate, is charged with determining "whether there is a need to revise the scope of the subject matter or the personnel" included under the conflicts law.
The controversy over conflicts-of-interest has dominated this year's session of the General Assembly. A measure approved by the House, which would reduce criminal penalties for state and local officials convicted of violating the conflicts law, is expected to encounter strong opposition in the Senate.
A Senate committee could take action on the House's weakened conflicts bill as early as this week. In addition to making it more difficult to prosecute public officials on ethics charges, the measure would eliminate jail terms and reduce fines from $5,000 to $1,000 for officials convicted of breaking the law.
Proponents of a diluted ethics law say the existing requirements could hamstring the General Assembly and leave legislators too paranoid to cast votes on many subjects in which they may have a personal financial interest.