Just ask the members of the Legislature, and they'll tell you how busy they are. Busy. busy, busy. So many important, difficult issues. No time for anything but the most crucial matters.
Making sure their own relatives can take gifts from strangers appears to be too momentous an issue to pass up, however.
Yesterday, the Legislature passed a bill that relaxes the ethics rules that apply to legislators, and other public officials, in the state. The vote in the House was along party lines, with all the Democrats voting no. The earlier vote in the Senate, however, was something like 24-5.
There's a lot of smoke being blown about how this bill just conforms to what some Marion County judge said in a recent case, but stripped of the malarkey, it does all of the following, and more:
1. Lobbyists and other interest groups could pay for relatives of public officials to accompany the officials on "public business." Currently, such gifts are limited to $100 per relative per year.
2. Public officials and their relatives could accept unlimited gifts from individuals with no "perceived legislative or administrative interest." Currently the $100-a-year cap applies here, too.
3. Cities, counties and state agencies could make their own rules about personal use of cell phones, frequent flier miles, and other perks. Currently there are uniform statewide regulations about this.
Coupled with the new bill is a major de-funding of the state Government Standards and Practices Commission, which is the state's primary ethics enforcement agency. Already largely toothless, this commission just had its last bicuspid knocked out with new budget cutbacks. They're a done deal.
People in Oregon are so naive when it comes to corruption in politics and government. They're just convinced that it can't, and doesn't, happen here. As if somehow the Beaver State had a grant of immunity from the vices of human nature.
Earth to Salem: Giving or taking a bribe is not free speech.