Tennessee Senate passes ethics legislation

The Tennessee Senate Tuesday passed legislation to toughen the state's ethics laws. The unanimous approval of the legislation sends it to a conference committee, which will also receive the House version of the bill.

More than 200 lobbyists have been gathered for weeks in Nashville, plotting how to stop the bill, or at least water it down.

But Tuesday the Tennessee Senate Passed an ethics bill designed to police members of the General Assembly after a year riddled with corruption.

"I think we've passed a strong ethics bill," said Senator Jim Kyle, "and I think there are significant provisions and restrictions on lobbying, restrictions on money spent by employers of lobbyists, and restrictions on the personal actions of legislators, to restore confidence in this government."

Specifically, the bill limits cash contributions for campaigns to $50 per individual. It bans cash contributions from political action committees, and limits wining and dining of lawmakers by lobbyists to $50 per event and $100 per year.

The most controversial aspect of the bill states there will be no independent Ethics Commission, as called for by Governor Bredesen. Instead, the registry of election finance will serve to review ethics issues.

Some senators felt creating a new panel including staffers would be burning taxpayer money.

"I think its all about whether you feel that we need two forms of bureaucracy or we can control one," Kyle said. He disagreed, and had hoped for an independent ethics commission. After the vote, Kyle said he stood by the action of the senate.

"There's a lot of confidence in the registry of election finance," he said. "People know those folks, and know they've done a good job. They believe they can do a good job with the lobbyists too.

The house is still working out its version of the bill, and there are differences. The house is expected to vote later this week, and those differences will have to be hammered out in conference committee.