State senators are trying to repeal a ban on their ability to change from legislator to lobbyist overnight, a restriction put in place in the wake of a public corruption scandal that resulted in the arrest and conviction of seven lawmakers.
On a 6-1 vote, members of the Senate Committee on Government Institutions voted Thursday to scrap a law that keeps lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues for a year after they leave office. The plan, if approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor, would take effect in time to let the current crop of lawmakers who are not running for re-election - or who are defeated - to take lobbying jobs next January.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said he crafted the measure when he thought he would run for secretary of state and would choose Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, as his chief of staff. Harper said a strict reading of the law would preclude Verschoor from weighing in on legislation that affects the office.
Harper has since decided to run for the House. But he said the change is still necessary.
And he specifically said he did not want to waive the law solely for those who go to work for state agencies. Harper called it an "issue of equality and economic liberty" for lawmakers.
"When someone leaves the Legislature, they're supposed to be unemployable for another year?" he asked.
But Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, who was in the Legislature in the early 1990s when the restriction was adopted, said there was - and is - a good reason for it.
The measure was part of a series of new restrictions on lobbyists after the AzScam scandal.
An undercover agent, posing as a lobbyist for interests pursuing legalized casino gaming in Arizona, gave out thousands of dollars in both campaign contributions and bribes to lawmakers willing to support the plan.
Seven legislators were indicted. Six reached plea deals; a seventh was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery and filing false campaign statements.
The reforms included registration of lobbyists, limits on how much lobbyists can spend in gifts for lawmakers and prohibitions on legislators taking campaign funds from lobbyists while they are in session.
And it included the one-year ban on lawmakers engaging in lobbying after they leave office.
Harper said it was time to repeal that last provision.
"It's time the Legislature does something other than take people's economic liberty," he said. "They create opportunities for people to work without permission of the government."
McCune Davis disagreed the law should go away.
"The public has been well served by that," she said. "There needs to be a clear separation between the people who make the decisions and the people who influence the decision making on behalf of a paid client."
She acknowledged that the one-year limit is an artificial number.
"But one year at least creates some space," McCune Davis said. "It makes people step away from this process and go back to what they should have been before, a citizen of the state."
She said lawmakers still have relationships with their former colleagues after a year.
"But at least we have a year's separation," McCune Davis said. "I'm very comfortable with the law."
Harper said the law is unfair in another way: There is no similar restriction on top-level staffers, the people who help lawmakers craft legislation and prepare arguments. They can quit at any time and immediately start lobbying.
McCune Davis conceded the point. But she said the answer to that might be to put new restrictions on staffers, not to remove the ones on legislators.
The measure now goes to the full Senate.