Democratic Leaders: Ethics Overhaul, Paid Family Leave Top Agenda

Newsday — Friday, January 4, 2008

Associated Press Writer

TRENTON, N.J. — Democratic leaders on Friday said they would push in the next legislative session for tougher ethics laws and making New Jersey the third state to offer people paid leave from work to care for a sick family member or new child.

The next session begins on Tuesday when the Legislature elected in the Nov. 6 election is sworn in.

Democrats will control the Senate 23-17 and the Assembly 48-32, and the next Legislature will have 40 new members.

Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. said they both push for:

_ A tougher law restricting campaign contributions from government contractors. Critics claim this practice leads to campaign contributions being traded for lucrative government contracts.

_ A law banning county political parties from exchanging campaign contributions, a practice critics contend helps county political bosses extend their reach.

_ Renewing a pilot program in which candidates get taxpayer money to campaign with rather than money donated by special-interest groups.

_ A revamped legislative ethics committee.

_ A new legislative ethics code.

"We've made great progress, but there's still a lot more work to be done," said Codey, D-Essex. "Now it's time to get to it."

The moves come after Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine recently said he would seek tougher ethics laws next year and after four Democratic legislators were either indicted or arrested on federal corruption charges in 2007. Another Democratic legislator dropped his re-election bid after being told by federal prosecutors he was being targeted in a corruption inquiry.

"We need to harness the Legislature's sweeping membership turnover as a vehicle for establishing higher ethical standards and new laws to fight corruption, malfeasance and influence peddling," said Roberts, D-Camden.

A bill to provide up to 10 weeks paid family leave stalled this session amid business opposition. A compromise plan that would have offered up to six weeks paid leave also stalled.

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