Monday, February 1, 2010

Ethics Reform that Isn't

I tried to be optimistic about the ethics "reform" the legislature is scrambling to assemble in an attempt to head off the UEG initiative, and in response to general public pressure over their tepid "reform" offered to date.

Details from the Daily Herald squashed that optimism today.

The resolution includes plenty of protections for state lawmakers that would keep potential wrongdoings out of the public eye. The ethics commission would meet behind closed doors and all documents associated with ethics complaints would be private unless the commission came to a near unanimous agreement to forward the complaint along to a legislative committee.

Complaints also couldn't be filed for 60 days before a primary or general election, eliminating four months out of the year for the public to have their grievances heard in election years.

The proposal also limits who can file an ethics complaint. It would only allow registered voters to do so, and two or more people would have to join together to file a complaint. State lawmakers filing a complaint wouldn't need to have actual knowledge of wrongdoing, but the public would.

"I think it's unacceptable. It's a sham," said Utahns for Ethical Government spokeswoman Dixie Huefner. "It appears very removed from public scrutiny."

The ethics commission, consisting of three retired judges and two former legislators, would have no disciplinary power. It would only have the ability to forward complaints to a legislative ethics committee.

That committee would also have no disciplinary power. It would only make recommendations to the House or Senate, which could expel, censure or clear legislators of wrong doing.

Those legislative hearings would be open to the public, but no cameras or recording advices would be allowed.

The ethics commission would have no jurisdiction over former lawmakers and those who have resigned.
This isn't reform. This is redirection of the entrenched protections that get the body into trouble in the first place.

Sign the UEG petition here, if you haven't already.

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