When Congress passed an ethics reform bill last year to improve its image, it also managed to prevent Bill Self of Ogden - a U.S. Forest Service hydraulic engineer - from continuing his free-lance writing and speaking about sports.
Such consequences were never intended by the bill's authors and must be corrected, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations on Thursday."As a member of the original Ethics Reform Panel, I was there . . . when the first hearings and investigations were held. I know this ban on speaking and writing for pay was never the intention of this legislation," Hansen said.
The ethics reform bill banned House members from receiving pay for speeches beginning this year, and courts ruled that the bill extended the same ban to all federal employees - even if they speak or write on topics totally unrelated to their federal work.
Hansen said Self is the perfect example.
"In his spare time, he participates in free-lance writing and speaking. His activities include writing magazine articles, contributing to Sports Guide magazine and editing for Alpine Ski. He also teaches continuing education courses."
Hansen has introduced a bill that would lift the speaking ban on people such as Self.
"Congress perceived there was a need to prohibit members from receiving speaking fees, and that was the intent of the Ethics Reform Act. But the courts have upheld the interpretation that it applies to all federal employees," Hansen said.
"My bill clarifies that intent, keeping intact the ban on members of the House, while once again allowing federal workers to engage in off-duty speaking and writing activities that are unrelated to their work."
Hansen, the ranking Republican on the House ethics committee, said his bill faces hearings in several other committees before a final proposal may proceed to the full House for a vote.