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People and Politics May 2014

People and Politics | May 2014

5/1/2014

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

RICHARD “DICK”  SWEET, A WIDELY RESPECTED ATTORNEY WITH THE WISCONSIN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL for 36 years, died in April from melanoma. He was 65. During his years with the council he specialized in health law, veterans’ issues and administrative rules and was assistant director of the administrative rules clearinghouse. Sweet served on NCSL’s Legal Services Staff Section, made significant contributions in updating NCSL’s separation of powers website and worked on the Health IT steering committee. He received NCSL’s Staff Achievement Award in 2010, acknowledging his outstanding skills and professionalism. Sweet retired from the Legislature in 2011, but was never a stranger. “He came to the office whenever we had a book club meeting, and he usually brought us cookies he had baked,” said Anne Sappenfield, principal attorney at the council. “We will all miss Dick.”

Elephant and Donkey party symbolsKANSAS REPRESENTATIVE MARC RHOADES (R) RESIGNED HIS CHAIRMANSHIP of the House Appropriations Committee in protest over a school funding proposal. He submitted his resignation to Speaker Ray Merrick (R) before a scheduled two-day hearing on a bill to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. He said he objected to the bill going through “numerous alterations outside the committee process without the committee once having worked on the bill.” Merrick appointed Representative Gene Suellentrop (R) the new chair and Representative Joe Seiwert (R) to the vacant seat on the committee. The House went on to approve $129 million in new money for schools.

DEMOCRATS LOST THEIR SUPERMAJORITY IN THE CALIFORNIA SENATE after three senators involved in criminal probes were suspended with pay by their colleagues in late March. Senator Leland Yee (D) was charged in federal court with conspiring to import and traffic firearms and public corruption. He had been an outspoken advocate of gun control in the Senate. Yee, released on $500,000 bond, withdrew as a candidate for California secretary of state. He was the first Asian American elected speaker pro tem. Senator Ron Calderon (D) was indicted on corruption charges in April, and Senator Ron Wright (D) was convicted of voter fraud. 

PENNSYLVANIA SENATE REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS have passed a ban on cash gifts from lobbyists and others in response to reports that four House Democratic colleagues took money from an undercover informant in a sting investigation begun in 2010. “Senate approval of this legislation gives hope that an ugly problem is about to yield a responsible solution,” said Senator Lisa Baker (R), co-sponsor of the bill. “It sets basic ground rules everyone can grasp.” The Senate bill makes taking a cash gift below $250 a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $1,000. A gift of $250 or more would be a felony, carrying the possibility of jail time. The state currently requires disclosure of gifts worth $250 or more. “No good can come of a legislator accepting a cash gift,” said bill co-sponsor Senator Lloyd Smucker (R). “It should be a given we are not allowed to do it today.”

BILL BEHNK, COORDINATOR OF CALIFORNIA’S LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION SERVICES for the Office of Legislative Council, died in April after a career spanning decades. In 2012, his colleagues, realizing he had no intention of retiring, celebrated his career with an “appreciation” event where they unveiled a commemorative mural and plaque, presented him with a Senate resolution and named a floor of the Data Center the “W.E. Behnk Computer Center.” Behnk said at the time, “I thoroughly enjoy what I do. It just never occurred to me to retire.” Behnk received NALIT’s Staff Achievement Award in 1998, and served on NCSL’s Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee and the Communications and Information Policy Committee. “Bill was a kind, gentle, intelligent person who mentored many of the staff. … No one could meet Bill without sensing his love for the Legislature as an institution,” said Diane Boyer-Vine, California’s legislative counsel. 

RHODE ISLAND REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLAS MATTIELLO (D) WAS ELECTED SPEAKER of the House of Representatives four days after federal and state law officers raided the office and home of then-speaker Gordon Fox, hauling out boxes labeled “evidence.” Fox resigned the next day. Mattiello, who had been majority leader, said, “I never expected such a stunning and rapid turn of events. … To say I am hitting the ground running is a vast understatement.”  Mattiello has served in the General Assembly since 2007. He says he plans to focus on a pro-business agenda to bring jobs to the state and to give greater emphasis on “collaboration in the decision-making Representative John DeSimone (D) was chosen to fill the position of majority leader.” 

WISCONSIN SENATE PRESIDENT MIKE ELLIS (R), A 44-YEAR VETERAN OF THE LEGISLATURE, dropped out of his race for re-election after he was secretly recorded discussing how to create an illegal political action committee to defeat his challenger, Representative Penny Bernard Schaber (D). “There’s no room for independent thinking and there’s no room for compromise,” the Associate Press reported Ellis said. “The art of the compromise, the ability to accept diverse thought is just about dead on both sides. ... I don’t fit in any more. I can’t fit in.” The tape was recorded and released by Project Veritas, which also has targeted National Public Radio and The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) with secret recordings.

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