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Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 Key Ethics Reform Legislation

What ethics policy changes did the legislature enact in 2010?

Here's a quick summary:

H.J.R. 15, Joint Resolution on Legislative Ethics Commission - establishes in the Utah Constitution a legislative ethics commission. The legislative ethics commission will have authority to conduct an independent review of complaints against legislators alleging unethical legislative behavior. The purpose of the review is to determine whether the complaint merits further consideration by the house of the member against whom the complaint is made. The commission will make recommendations to the Legislature about how to handle complaints alleging unethical behavior.

As the founders intended, the House and Senate will continue to be accountable for determining whether one of their members has engaged in unethical behavior and, if so, the appropriate sanction.

Under this resolution, the ethics commission will consist of five members, none of which may be a sitting legislator or registered lobbyist.

S.J.R. 3 - Joint Resolution on Ethics Complaint Procedures - This bill has created an Independent Legislative Ethics Commission and modifies the rules of the House and Senate for handling ethics complaints.

Here's the new process:
A complaint may be filed for breach of the Legislative Code of Conduct or a conviction or plea of guilty/no contest to a crime of moral turpitude. The complaint must be filed by two registered voters, one of whom must have first-hand knowledge of the allegation. It can also be filed by two Senators or Representatives with affidavits/evidence attached for each allegation. A list of requested witnesses is attached to the complaint.

A technical review of the complaint by the chairs of the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission would follow. The complaint cannot be filed within 60 days of the respondent standing for election, and cannot re-file a previously heard allegation unless there is new evidence. The respondent will have the chance to file a response.

If the complaint meets the technical filing requirements, the review by the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission would go as follows:
  • Hearing is closed to the public
  • Commission must give public notice that they are meeting to review an ethics complaint
  • Complaint is private (if the complaint or its information is released, the complaint is dismissed, but can be refiled)
  • Hearing structure is similar to a trial (testimony of witnesses/cross-examination, etc.)
Each allegation that is proved (4 out of 5 vote that the allegation is supported by a preponderance of the evidence) is forwarded to the House or Senate Legislative Ethics Committee for their action. The commission would publicly release a report that included complaint and response on the proved allegations, plus findings which include votes and comments on the proved allegations.

The review by the House or Senate Ethics Committee would go as follows:
  • Hearing is conducted in public
  • Hearing structure is similar to the commission’s review
  • Committee deliberates in private after hearing evidence and testimony
  • Committee releases findings on all allegations reviewed (the vote on each allegation and comments as well as recommendations to the House or Senate for disciplinary action on proved allegations.
Each allegation that is proved (proof means a majority of the committee votes that the allegation is supported by a standard of clear and convincing evidence) is forwarded to the entire House or Senate. At this point, the House or Senate can vote to Discipline/Censure a legislator (which requires a majority vote) or Expel them from the body (which requires a 2/3 vote).
S.J.R. 19 - Joint Rules Resolution on Ethics Complaints – This bill is a clarification of S.J.R. 3 - In Senator Valentine’s words:
Senate Joint Resolution 19 - Joint Rules Resolution on Ethics Complaints clarifies SJR 3. To remove possible criticism about the process, this bill requires any new ethics complaints to go directly to the Independent Legislative Ethics Commission rather than going through the Senate or House legislative ethics committees first. In my previous bill, the legislative ethics committee chairs served as the gatekeepers during the filing period. However, I believe we want to make the commission truly independent by giving them the primary authority to investigate ethics complaints against members of the legislature.

Along with the change in the initial filing, this resolution also provides that the chair of the commission will provide notice of a filing of an ethics complaint – confidential, no names or details until publicly disclosed by the commission – to the Speaker of the House or the Senate President as well as the chair and vice-chair of the legislative ethics committee.
As we've learned, there's a dark side of campaign politics - particularly from some who don't feel they can win at the ballot box. The next two bills are associated with SJR3, to help assure frivolous, deceitful or politically opportunistic complaints will not damage the reputations of the innocent. Sorry, ________ (you know who you are) we know that takes some of the fun out of your campaign work.
S.B. 136 - Open and Public Meetings Revisions Related to Review of Ethics Complaints - This legislation is meant to depoliticize the review of ethics complaints by allowing a review committee to complete its due diligence prior to publicizing an ethics complaints.

S.B. 138 - Grama Revisions Related to Review of Ethics Complaints - This legislation further depoliticizes the review of ethics complaints by allowing records related to review of specific ethics complaints to be classified as private, but allows any other document to be classified as public by legislative rule. It's worth noting that these documents were already private -- this revision opens it up somewhat.
H.B. 267- Lobbyist Disclosure and Regulation Act Amendments – This bill requires the disclosure of an expenditure greater than $10. A lobbyist, principal or government officer (not a legislator) is prohibited from making an expenditure on behalf of a legislator greater than $10 except for food, a beverage, travel, lodging, or attendance at a meeting or activity (which must be disclosed). This bill also adds definition to many terms, providing clarity.

H.B. 270 - Financial Disclosure and Conflict of Interest Amendments and H.J.R. 14 - Joint Rules Resolution on Financial Disclosures – This bill modifies and extends the requirement to file a financial disclosure form and the existing application of the criminal provision (Section 76-8-109) which requires a legislator to verbally declare a conflict of interest before a vote if the conflict is not listed on the form. Legislators must file the form on the first day of the legislative session and when a legislator changes employment.

Candidates for the Legislature, state constitutional offices, and the State Board of Education are required to file the same financial disclosure form at the time they file a declaration of candidacy. Here is an example of the form. With this legislation, the information must be available to the public via the internet.

H.B. 124 - Campaign Funds Expenditure Restrictions - This bill prohibits a candidate or officeholder from spending campaign funds on personal items (that primarily furthers a personal interest of a candidate or officeholder and is NOT connected with the candidacy or office) from campaign contributions. It also provides a list of authorized and prohibited uses of campaign contributions.

This bill authorizes the Lieutenant Governor to enforce this prohibition with a fine equaling 50% of the expenditure and forcing the return of 100% of the expenditure to the candidate’s campaign account.

H.B. 329 – Campaign Finance Amendments – This bill adds to the filing requirements for a candidate during a campaign. It also requires a person sponsoring certain electioneering communications (third party campaigning either supporting or opposing) to file a report. A corporation must disclose a contract with the state in excess of $100,000. This bill also prohibits someone from making a campaign contribution in another person’s name. If one does not file a timely financial statement, removal from the ballot and a fine would be imposed by the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

Want more detail?

Click on the bill headers, above, or open this bullet-point summary of the key ethics legislation in 2010 (PDF). In addition, here's a PDF of the Ethics Reform Legislation we passed in 2009.

We'd be interested in thoughtful feedback.

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