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February 10. 2014 5:04PM

UPDATED: Legislative ethics panel rejects Bragdon's claim of 'overbroad' restrictions

CONCORD — The Legislative Ethics Committee has rejected state Sen. Peter Bragdon’s assertion that the panel imposed “overbroad and unnecessary” restrictions on him to avoid potential conflict between his role as an elected official and his job as executive director of the HealthTrust public employees benefits pool.
 
“The conditions were not offered as a starting point for further negotiations,” ethics committee chairman Martin L. Gross wrote to Bragdon’s attorney, Russell Hilliard, in a letter on Monday that was obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday, “but rather to afford Senator Bragdon the opportunity to avoid a formal proceeding to consider the two allegations that the Committee’s Preliminary Investigation indicated would be supported by clear and convincing evidence.”
 
Bragdon’s reaction to the sharply-worded letter was, “No comment at this time. I will be discussing this matter with attorney Hilliard and trying to figure out why I am being treated differently than other legislators who are employed.”
 
The committee, after clearing Bragdon of any intentional behavior that violated legislative ethics guidelines, told Bragdon that he must agree to “not take part in any official activity that concerns, involves or would have any effect on your employer.”
 
Bragdon, a Milford Republican, accepted the $180,000-a-year post last summer and then stepped down as state Senate President, but stayed on as a rank-and-file senator.
 
The committee also told Bragdon that he should not participate in any HealthTrust consideration or decision-making process” on any matter that involves legislative consideration, and he should not participate in any HealthTrust “consideration, decision-making or communications with the state’s regulatory officials who deal with the risk pool.”
 
Hilliard wrote to the panel last week that the conditions are “overbroad and unnecessary” and asked for clarifications. He wrote, for instance, that some legislation “applies generally to employers and nonprofits such as HealthTrust and not in any particular fashion to HealthTrust.”
 
But Gross wrote back on Monday, “If Senator Bragdon believes the conditions are unacceptable, and if chooses to remain a member of the Senate, the Committee will go forward by issuing written formal charges and scheduling a hearing to determine the merits of the allegations.”
 
Gross wrote that the conditions were purposely broadly worded “to assure that as long as Sen. Bragdon remains in the Senate, his position cannot in any way be used to benefit his employer.”
 
He wrote that the restrictions “are intended to isolate Senator Bragdon from his employer’s relations with the state.”
 
Gross noted that Bragdon recently filed an “incomplete” declaration under the ethics guidelines, “in which he identified the Medicaid bills as involving a conflict with his employment, but then participated in voting on them. He did this notwithstanding previous assurance to the Committee that he would not participate in any matter involving his employer.”
 
Gross wrote that Bragdon is allowed to perform “purely ministerial activities” in assisting HealthTrust to comply with proposed legislation or regulations, but may not become involved in meaningful, “prudential decisions concerning its relations with the state.”
 
Gross wrote that Bragdon must accept or reject the committee’s restrictions by 12 noon on Friday.
 
(See our earlier story below)

"The conditions were not offered as a starting point for further negotiations," ethics committee chairman Martin L. Gross wrote to Bragdon's attorney, Russell Hilliard in a Monday letter obtained by UnionLeader.com on Tuesday, "but rather to afford Senator Bragdon the opportunity to avoid a formal proceeding to consider the two allegations that the Committee's Preliminary Investigation indicated would be supported by clear and convincing evidence."



Bragdon's reaction to the sharply-worded letter was, "No comment at this time. I will be discussing this matter with attorney Hilliard and trying to figure out why I am being treated differently than other legislators who are employed."



The committee, after clearing Bragdon of any intentional behavior that violated legislative ethics guidelines, told Bragdon that he must agree to "not take part in any official activity that concerns, involves or would have any effect on your employer."

Bragdon, a Milford Republican, accepted the $180,000-a-year post last summer and then stepped down as state Senate President, but stayed on as a rank-and-file senator.

The committee also told Bragdon that he should not participate in any HealthTrust consideration or decision-making process" on any matter that involves legislative consideration and he should not participate in any HealthTrust "consideration, decision-making or communications with the state's regulatory officials who deal with the risk pool."

Hilliard wrote to the panel last week that the conditions are "overbroad and unnecessary" and asked for clarifications. He wrote, for instance, that some legislation "applies generally to employers and nonprofits such as HealthTrust and not in any particular fashion to HealthTrust."

But Gross wrote back on Monday, "If Senator Bragdon believes the conditions are unacceptable, and if chooses to remain a member of the Senate, the Committee will go forward by issuing written formal charges and scheduling a hearing to determine the merits of the allegations."

Gross wrote that the conditions were purposely broadly worded "to assure that as long as Sen. Bragdon remains in the Senate, his position cannot in any way be used to benefit his employer."

He wrote that the restrictions "are intended to isolate Senator Bragdon from his employer's relations with the state."

Gross noted that Bragdon recently filed an "incomplete" declaration under the ethics guidelines, "in which he identified the Medicaid bills as involving a conflict with his employment, but then participated in voting on them. He did this notwithstanding previous assurance to the Committee that he would not participate in any matter involving his employer."

Gross wrote that Bragdon is allowed to perform "purely ministerial activities" in assisting HealthTrust to comply with proposed legislation or regulations, but may not become involved in meaningful, "prudential decisions concerning its relations with the state."

Gross wrote that Bragdon must accept or reject the committee's restrictions by 12 noon on Friday.

(Our earlier report follows.)



CONCORD — An attorney for state Sen. Peter Bragdon has labeled as "overbroad and unnecessary" restrictions imposed on Bragdon by the Legislative Ethics Committee in connection with his role as the executive director of the HealthTrust public employee benefits pool.

The attorney, Russell Hilliard, asked the ethics committee for an additional week to respond to its demands.

The ethics committee, after clearing Bragdon of any intentional conflicts between his $180,000-a-year job heading HealthTrust and his role as a state senator, told Bragdon that in the future he must "not take part of any official activity that concerns, involves or would have any effect on your employer."

The committee also told Bragdon that he should not participate in any HealthTrust, Inc. "consideration or decision-making process" on any matter that involves legislative consideration and he should not participate in any HealthTrust, Inc. "consideration, decision-making or communication" with the state's regulatory personnel.

The committee asked Bragdon's attorney, Hilliard, to respond by last Friday to its request that Bragdon consent to the restrictions. The committee had said that if Bragdon did not consent, it would re-open a full-blown probe into possible conflicts.

Instead of immediately consenting to the conditions last Friday, Hilliard instead asked ethics committee chairman and Concord attorney Martin Gross for clarifications and more time for an official response.

Hilliard wrote Gross that the first condition, that Bragdon avoid any official activity involving or affecting HealthTrust, "appears to impose an overbroad and unnecessary restriction."

"There is much legislation that applies generally to employers and nonprofits such as HealthTrust," Hilliard wrote, "and not in any particular fashion to HealthTrust. For example, legislation concerning employers, or taxes paid by nonprofits generally (e.g., gasoline tax), would not effect HealthTrust any differently than all others subject to the legislation."

Regarding the second and third conditions, Hilliard wrote, "We are assuming that these conditions would not preclude (Bragdon) from assisting his employer in complying with proposed legislation or regulations, or preparing to comply with them, such as preparing budgets to account for possible changes in taxes or expenses."

Gross responded to Hilliard that the committee will respond to his concerns and also set a new deadline for Bragdon's consent.

Bragdon, a Milford Republican, stepped down as Senate President shortly after taking the HealthTrust post last September, but stayed on as a state senator.


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