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March 12, 2014
Another View: Senate ethics package is a good start

Ricardo_Lara_Kevin_de_Leon.jpg(March 12 - By Ricardo Lara, Special to The Bee)

The California Senate introduced a package of bills last week aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in political practices, including banning all gifts from lobbyists, substantially lowering the limit on gifts from others and doubling the number of reporting requirements for elected officials.

As the Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel noted, the California Accountability in Public Service Act (CAPS Act) proposes some of the most significant reforms to ethics laws in 20 years. Still, The Bee's editorial board doesn't feel we've gone far enough ("Not surprisingly, ethics bills aren't much of a reform," Editorials, March 8).

Truth be told, the Senate Working Group on Ethics' work is by no means complete. That doesn't mean we can't act now on important reforms, while we continue to explore all options, including legislation dealing with travel and behested payments.

Still, I must take issue with the editorial's unwarranted potshots at the Latino Caucus (and myself as chairman). Here's why:

Last week, Latino Caucus members attended a screening of "Cesar Chavez," a biography of the late civil rights activist. As we stood with Chavez's son, he noted that the caucus looked very different from when he first came to Sacramento.

Forty years ago, the Chicano Legislative Caucus was formed, with five members, to promote and preserve the rights of Latinos and to develop new leaders. At the time, low Latino representation translated into policies that impeded the economic and social progress of the Latino community.

The Latino Caucus grew by nurturing new generations of leaders. Today, the caucus has 25 members. That's 20 percent of the Legislature, much lower than the nearly 40 percent of Latinos in California's overall population. We still have work to do before the Legislature is truly representative of the people.

When I became caucus chairman, I vowed to continue that work with integrity. I have filed behested payment reports for every contribution received by the caucus under my watch - even those below the legal reporting threshold - because of my strong desire for transparency. I have no regrets about fighting to grow a caucus to represent the interest of millions and doing so under the bright lights of disclosure and transparency. That's what we're doing. There is no hidden agenda and no desire for "self-aggrandizement."

Ultimately, I am a senator first and have a solemn duty to fight for the interests of my constituents and all our great state's residents. That includes the package of reform bills I proudly co-authored last week. They bring transparency and accountability all Californians demand.

Sen. Ricardo Lara represents California's 33rd Senate District, is chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and leads the Senate Working Group on Ethics.