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Felony Provision Almost Derails D.C. Ethics Bill

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Ethics legislation narrowly avoided a roadblock in the D.C. Council Monday, as two provisions provisions in the bill proved stumbling-blocks in committee.
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Ethics legislation narrowly avoided a roadblock in the D.C. Council Monday, as two provisions provisions in the bill proved stumbling-blocks in committee.

As the federal investigation into a D.C. Council member intensifies, the council is rushing to pass ethics legislation before the end of the year. Even so, the legislation was almost derailed Monday as council members in the committee overseeing the legislation raised questions about a couple new provisions in the measure.

The biggest change would create an expulsion mechanism for a mayor or council member convicted of a felony while in office. That would require a change in the city’s charter -- which needs to be approved by District voters -- so it would likely be many months before it became law. Right now, the only way to be kicked out of office is through incarceration. 

Another change being introduced would make it easier to recall an elected official.

It appeared, at least momentarily, that the committee was deadlocked on the measure and that the bill would be delayed -- ultimately breaking Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s promise to pass the legislation before the end of the year, but the committee eventually voted out the bill, setting up a vote before the entire council Tuesday morning.

Some, like D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan, believe that simply legislating away ethics problems isn't enough. Last Thursday, he told the council that while he supports the proposed overhaul measure, when it comes to ethics reform, legislation is not enough: "Not only do elected officials have to comport themselves in an exemplary fashion, but they cannot appear to tolerate questionable conduct by their peers." The council's reaction to the recent scandal involving council member Harry Thomas Jr. is one example, he added.

Brown also mentioned that the council is meeting behind closed doors at 2:30 p.m. Monday to talk about the recent search of the house of Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas Jr. He stands accused of spending more than $300,000 of city funds intended to go towards youth baseball programs for his own personal use.

Thomas Jr. is a member of the ethics committee, but did not show up Monday for mark-up of the bill.

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