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Lawmakers to fix ethics law to allow donations to schools

HARTFORD, Conn. --Lawmakers voted Wednesday to fix an unintended glitch in a new state ethics law that cost some state schools and universities millions of dollars in corporate donations for scholarships and research.

The Senate voted unanimously to allow state agencies, including schools, to accept gifts from lobbyists, state contractors and companies doing business with the state. The House passed the legislation on a 137-6 vote. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

The original law, a reaction to recent government scandals, was designed to prevent contractors who do business with the state from using gifts to buy access and influence. But state universities and technical high schools complained that an interpretation of the law issued in April by the new Office of State Ethics has prevented them from accepting donations such as money for scholarships and cars for auto shop classes.

University of Connecticut officials said donations to the school's foundation are down $7 million from the prior year. Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairman of the legislature's Government Administrations and Elections Committee said she learned Wednesday that a bank e-mailed its employees, telling them not to contribute to UConn.

"Obviously there is a long list of unintended consequences, that if not corrected, will cripple our institutions of higher education," said Slossberg, adding how the legislature never intended to ban all gifts to state agencies and quasi-public agencies.

Lawmakers also removed a portion of the original ethics law that required state contractors to post information about their spouses and children on a state Internet web site. State Treasurer Denise Nappier told the legislature that she was not able to issue state bonds because the investment service companies did not want to reveal the information.

The bill also raises, from 16 to 18, the minimum age for making most campaign contributions over $30.

Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the GAE Committee, said lawmakers knew they'd likely have to revisit the original ethics law.

But House Minority Leader Lawrence J. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Republicans had warned the majority Democrats that some good contractors might shy away from working with the state because of the new restrictions.

"We were referred to as anti-reformers, people protecting the status quo. I think that today proves, that wasn't the case," Cafero said. "In our attempt to do the right thing, we are going to have differences of opinion. We would all be well-advised to listen to each other."