Welcome to the online legislative ethics tutorial. This interactive tutorial is designed to acquaint legislators and legislative staff with some of the major provisions governing their ethical behavior. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:13D-28, all legislators and employees are required to take this tutorial no later than April 1 of every even-numbered year. Before beginning the tutorial, it is helpful to review the background of ethics regulation in the State of New Jersey.
Standards of conduct for legislators and all State officers and employees in the executive and legislative branches are delineated in the "New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law" (N.J.S.A.52:13D-12 et seq.). In addition, legislators and legislative officers and employees are subject to the provisions and procedural requirements of the Legislative Code of Ethics, which is adopted anew by the Legislature for each two-year session. Additionally Joint Rule 19 of the Houses allows inquiry into any conduct of a legislator or legislative employee which reflects upon the good name, integrity, and reputation of the Legislature or any member thereof. The New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law and the Legislative Code of Ethics regulate three classifications of persons in the Legislative branch of State government: legislators; "State officers or employees" defined as full-time employees; and "special State officers or employees" defined as unpaid or part-time officers or employees. In some situations, there are different levels of restrictions on each classification. When reviewing provisions of the Conflicts of Interest Law and the Code of Ethics be sure to note whether the restrictions pertain to your classification. While this tutorial is intended to acquaint legislators and legislative staff with ethical restrictions, it is not intended to be all inclusive or to address the nuances that exist in the full text of the Conflicts of Interest Law and the Code of Ethics. Legislators and legislative employees are strongly advised to familiarize themselves with the complete provisions of the Conflicts of Interest Law, the Code of Ethics and Joint Rule 19 which are hyperlinked to this tutorial.
Lawyer-legislators and lawyer-legislative employees should also familiarize themselves with In the Matter of Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics Opinion 621, 128 N.J. 577 (1992), with regard to their ethical standards as lawyers and public officials.
The Legislative Code of Ethics implements the standards of the Conflicts of Interest Law; imposes additional standards of behavior with respect to involvement in casino activity by legislators, their firms or immediate families; restricts legislators in the use of their official titles; and also requires legislators to file an annual disclosure statement with respect to sources of family income and other information. Legislators must file financial disclosure statements covering the previous calendar year with the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards by May 15. Legislators have a continuing obligation to report any termination or assumption of public employment by themselves or their spouses within 30 days. It should be noted that the Code of Ethics is divided into four chapters: Chapter 1 is the definition section; Chapter 2 regulates legislators; Chapter 3 regulates legislative staff; and Chapter 4 covers administration and enforcement.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards is currently a bipartisan committee composed of eight public members. The Joint Committee is responsible for administering the Conflicts of Interest Law and the Code of Ethics for members of the Legislature and officers and employees in the legislative branch of government. The Joint Committee investigates, either on its own initiative or in response to a complaint, possible violations of the Law, Code, or Joint Rule 19. The Joint Committee is empowered to impose a fine up to $10,000 or suspend from office an officer or employee of the Legislature for violating the Law or Code, and it may fine a legislator up to $10,000 and recommend disciplinary action to the legislator's House.
The Joint Committee may also render formal advisory opinions to legislators and legislative officers and employees as to whether certain proposed actions would violate the Conflicts of Interest Law, Code of Ethics or Joint Rule 19. The Legislative Counsel is counsel to the Joint Committee. Effective January 8, 2008, the position of Ethics Counsel was established. The Ethics Counsel provides confidential informal ethics advice to legislators and employees upon request, when the request is one fully answered by the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law or the Legislative Code of Ethics or is on a subject previously determined by the Joint Committee. The Ethics Counsel may also assist members and employees in requesting formal advisory opinions from the Joint Committee on novel subject matters. Legislators are required to consult annually with the Ethics Counsel regarding the requirements of the Conflicts Law, Code of Ethics and other ethics provisions. Legislators and staff should direct inquiries regarding the Law and the Code to the Ethics Counsel in the Office of Legislative Services (609-847-3901).
IMPORTANT NOTE: The hypothetical questions in the tutorial are designed to illustrate how some of the provisions of the Law and Code are applied to specific factual situations. Even minor factual changes could result in different responses. Legislators and legislative staff should not use this tutorial as a substitute for actual advice from the Ethics Counsel and the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards.
In each area covered by the tutorial, the relevant Law and Code provisions are cited and hyperlinked to the full text which should be reviewed prior to responding to the questions. The cited provisions are summarized, but the summaries do not cover all the fine points of the Law and Code and should not be used as a substitute for reading the entire text. There are 25 questions. Questions are presented in each of the seven areas followed by YES/NO. Answer each question by pointing your cursor to your selected response and clicking once. You will be advised whether your answer is correct or incorrect and provided with an explanation.