ROME - The Italian Parliament on Wednesday approved anti-corruption legislation aimed at addressing a series of scandals involving graft, extravagant misuse of public funds and rampant cronyism that have outraged the economically distressed nation.
The new regulations call for stiffer prison sentences for public officials found guilty of bribe-taking, abuse of office or influence peddling. They also add the crime of corruption between private parties, as well as protective measures for whistle-blowers.
Provisions for greater transparency in finances, public bidding and hiring are also included. Still, some prosecutors have criticized the legislation for not being tough enough.
Prime Minister Mario Monti, who took office nearly a year ago as Italy risked crashing on the bond market, said before the vote that public corruption has long undermined Italy's international credibility and has discouraged foreign investment.
A study by Italy's highest financial tribunal estimates that $77.8 billion a year has been lost as a result of corruption.
A key provision of the measure prohibits anyone convicted of a serious crime to stand for election or have access to certain positions in public administration.
At least 20 current legislators have been convicted of crimes including corruption or ties with the Mafia; more than 120 are under judicial investigation, according to Italian news reports.
The lower chamber of Parliament voted 460 to 75 in favor of the measure, which has been approved in the Senate.
The Monti administration had called for a vote on the legislation, which had been met with resistance and a slew of amendments in Parliament, where it had lingered for two years.
The final vote was read by analysts to mean that Monti's government was stable despite threats over the weekend by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to pull out his party's support.
Berlusconi, a member of the lower chamber, and several of his supporters did not show up for the vote.
Long trailed by accusations of corruption and graft, Berlusconi was found guilty last week of tax fraud and sentenced to four years behind bars. He has said he will appeal and because of his age, 76, it is unlikely he will go to prison even if the appeals process upholds the conviction.
The passage of the law followed a Sicilian gubernatorial election Sunday marred by record-low voter turnout and surprising consensus for a protest movement that calls for the ouster of parliamentarians in trouble with the law as a key part of its platform.
The victor was an anti-Mafia, openly gay former mayor who earned 31% of the vote; the candidate for Berlusconi's party came in a distant second.
The Sicilian elections are considered a bellwether for the national elections set for April, and a warning that voters are finally fed up with stories of politicians using public money for exotic vacations and lavish parties on yachts.
It is also a signal that Italians are looking for alternatives to the personalities that have dominated the political scene on both sides of the spectrum for the last several years, beginning with Berlusconi.
Delaney is a special correspondent.