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York lawmaker readying bill for independent counsel to investigate Legislature

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Thursday, March 27, 2014, 10:24 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Saying he's fed up with corruption, a York County legislator will draft legislation and seek co-sponsors next week on a bill to establish the authority to appoint independent counsel to investigate state government scandals.

The independent counsel “would be like death hovering over the back of the General Assembly,” said Republican Rep. Seth Grove.

Grove said he's motivated by news reports that four Philadelphia Democratic lawmakers were recorded while taking cash from an undercover informant posing as a lobbyist.

“It boggles my mind someone would take cash,” said Grove, considered a policy wonk in his caucus for tax-shifting proposals.

None of the lawmakers has been charged.

Since 2007, authorities have charged 15 lawmakers. Cases are pending against some, but 11 were convicted, and by mid-2012, eight ex-legislative leaders were in prison at the same time. Dozens of current and former lawmakers, staffers, even a former Supreme Court Justice, were accused of corruption.

“I know so many good people in the General Assembly. It angers me that four or five people can make us look so bad,” Grove told the Tribune-Review.

A fifth official, an ex-traffic judge, accepted a $2,000 bracelet from the informant, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Rep. Mike Vereb, a GOP leader from Montgomery County, said on Wednesday that he is considering a legislative proposal for independent counsel.

The House Ethics Committee may investigate the payoffs. The panel, whose proceedings are secret, can censure a member, which could lead to expulsion.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, called the ethics committee process “a joke.” Partisan gridlock could hinder the committee's four Republicans and four Democrats.

Grove said he has confidence in the Ethics Committee but thinks an independent counsel is part of the solution — along with legislation banning gifts and cash.

Pennsylvania had an independent counsel law that expired in 2003.

Grove said he knows such a law carries potential pitfalls, such as a “runaway independent counsel,” and he's trying to write protections into a bill — such as judicial oversight in order to advance a criminal case. The administrative arm of the state Supreme Court would pick the judges randomly from several courts.

The governor, attorney general, House speaker and Senate president pro tempore could appoint independent counsel. More than one could operate at once, Grove said. Even with safeguards, the law might not half corruption, he acknowledged, but lawmakers would know someone could be watching.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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