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Scraping bottom

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When it comes to holding state legislators to high ethical standards, Michigan is at the bottom of the heap, according to a study published last week by the Center for Public Integrity. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit reported that ours is one of only four states with no statutes covering the conduct of legislators and other elected officials. Which means that legislators pretty much have a blank map when it comes to navigating ethics decisions.

“The problem with not having any laws in place,” says Karen Holcomb-Merrill, executive director of Michigan Common Cause, “is that legislators are left to their own devices to decide whether something is appropriate or not or ethical or not.”

Actions that might serve to line a legislator’s pockets can’t be prosecuted as ethics violations because no rules are laid out defining what, exactly, is unethical. A previous CPI report cited Michigan as one of only three states where legislators and other public officials aren’t required to produce disclosure statements that would reveal financial interests — and conflicts of interest.

That adds up to a one-two punch to the gut of folks interested in good government. But for pols, it’s a sweet deal that — with the rare exception of folks like state Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), who’s introduced corrective legislation only to see it languish — our solons seem in no rush to change. “I don’t have any sense that the Legislature at this point intends to address this significant void in Michigan law,” says Holcomb-Merrill.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail cguyette@metrotimes.com

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