Pa. House plans to ponder banning cash gifts

    Pennsylvania House lawmakers plan to take a more “deliberative” approach to changing ethics laws in the wake of reports that members of their own chamber took money on the sly from an undercover informant.The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to ban public officials from accepting cash gifts, with some exceptions. A vote on the measure, which would change the state Ethics Act, took place within three weeks of its introduction.

    House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said his chamber doesn’t plan to move with the same speed. A committee hearing has been scheduled to study proposed changes to the state’s ethics laws.

    “I don’t think anybody can definitively say, here’s everything we need to do,” he said. “So we do want to take a deliberative approach.”

    Miskin added that until more details come out about the quashed sting, legislative action is simply reactionary.

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    “We took immediate action last week by banning and basically making illegal in the House of Representatives to take a cash gift,” Miskin said, speaking of the House’s “writing in action” rule adopted last week.

    But breaking a House rule doesn’t necessarily result in a penalty – which puts it in a different league than state law. In fact, there’s no rule on what happens when lawmakers break chamber commandments. Miskin did not respond to inquiries about what are the consequences, if any, of breaking House rules.

    The parliamentary rules to ban cash gifts (both the House and Senate have now passed such rules) were prompted by reports that five Philadelphia Democrats, four of them House members, accepted money or gifts from an undercover informant working for state prosecutors. No criminal charges have been filed; state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the case was too flawed.

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