Friday, January 27, 2006

Legislators need day care

Two separate stories, one in The Tennessean and one in the News-Sentinel leave me in a state of confusion about what is actually going on in Nashville.

The News-Sentinel is hailing the latest developments as a breakthrough, saying that the House and the Senate are finally coming to some sort of agreement on ethics legislation, and essentially saying that the Democratic House Leadership has seen the light, and suddenly agreed to accept many of the tougher ethics provisions of the Republican-led Senate, most of which had to do with meals from lobbyists and how and when they could occur.

The Tennessean, on the other hand, says that many loopholes are being written into the proposed legislation, especially by the House, and that led Republican State Representative Brian Kelsey of Germantown to write a check to the State of Tennessee yesterday for the $1,350 in perdiem he has received for the three weeks he has been in Nashville. He says legislators called into special session to bring about ethics reform are being “paid to do nothing.”

Those are strong actions, and actions speak louder than words. I looked at a brief prepared by The Tennessean that highlighted the differences between the House and Senate versions of the ethics bill. I have to admit that I find neither version overly attractive, as both have significant loopholes. The other problem is that legislative ethics are hard to define, in some cases. The reason is that whether or not something is ethical often boils down to common sense on the part of the legislator(s) involved and can often be determined using the Golden Rule by simply asking: “Were I a voter, would I want my legislator doing this?”

The fact that we have to write up some legal code to tell legislators what is ethical seems to be a testimony to the reality that many of them lack common sense to begin with. I am in no way saying that all ethics are situational, but in the game of politics, situations where legislators have dealings with lobbyists often are pretty situational, and the question of whether something is ethical or not can usually be answered by legislators asking the question I mentioned above.

All that our legislators are proving is that they either have no common sense, or something far worse: They lack a sound conscience with which to make good ethical decisions, and so a law must be drafted to tell them how to behave.

These are not representatives of the people. They are overgrown children whose playtime is being funded with taxpayer dollars. They should simply rename the State Capitol the State Adult Day Care Center.


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