It has been a little over a month since Governor Murphy delivered his State of the State address in Trenton. In that speech, the Governor promised to deliver sweeping ethics reform to Trenton. Last night, in a live address, the Governor unveiled a comprehensive plan which promises to be the most sweeping changes to ethics reform in Trenton in more than a decade.
We will all learn more in the coming months as these reforms move through the legislative process and through potential Executive Orders, but the Governor focused for now on five areas of reform:
- Lobbying Reform to remove the exception that individuals who spend less than 20 hours per year on lobbying are exempt from registering as a “governmental affairs agent.” Instead, under the proposal, anyone who spends at least one hour lobbying will need to register, thereby increasing the number of individuals who will be required to register with and report their activity to ELEC.
- Eliminating the Legislative Exemption to the Open Public Records Act, which will increase transparency with respect to communications with the Legislature.
- Aligning Gift and Outside Income Rules for the Executive and Legislative Branches, which will subject Legislative officials and staff to the same outside gift and income restrictions that currently applies to the Executive Branch officials and employees.
- Extending the Cooling Off Period in New Jersey from one year to two years, during which certain New Jersey officials and employees are prohibited from registering as lobbyists after leaving service in State government.
- Increasing Legislative Transparency to will prohibit voting on bills or resolutions unless their final form has been made publicly available on the Legislature’s website for a full 72 hours preceding the vote.
In addition, Governor Murphy announced plans to revise, through Executive Order, pay-to-play disclosure requirements and transparency for state vendors.
These changes to the current laws will no doubt have an impact on government officials and employees. But they will also have an impact on vendors who do business with the government and companies, groups and organizations who hire lobbyists, lawyers, professional-relations firms, consultants and others to interact with the government on their behalf. Although it may take some time for the proposed laws to be enacted and the final versions may end up looking different from what has been proposed, for those who interact with the government on a regular basis, it is never too soon to start planning ahead to ensure compliance with the law.