Committee OKs ethics bills
A half dozen ethics measures advanced Monday in the Legislature amid public skepticism and a bit of lawmaker angst.
The Senate Ethics Committee unanimously advanced three House measures:
» HB124 aims to define and prohibit personal spending of campaign funds
» HB267 would ban most lobbyist gifts more than $10 and requires fuller disclosure of meals purchased for individual lawmakers
» HJR15 would enshrine in the state Constitution a new independent ethics commission established by companion legislation, SJR3.
HJR15 must get a two-thirds majority in both chambers to be put on the ballot this fall.
"There are many carefully crafted exceptions and loopholes in these," said Dixie Huefner, a sponsor of a broad ethics reform initiative that Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) hope to get on November's ballot.
Former Rep. Karl Snow, also part of UEG, urged lawmakers to define the effect of the Constitutional amendment, which also is headed for a public vote this fall.
Along with engraving the new commission in the Constitution, the resolution also dictates that the Legislature, by rule, establish its parameters.
"Is that to preclude any initiative brought forward by the citizenry?," Snow asked.
The Legislature's power regarding the ethical behavior of its members is "plenary" or absolute, said its General Counsel John Fellows. "Legislative rule is not subject to initiative or referendum," he added.
Huefner said voters need to understand the Legislature's new panel and ethics rules will nullify UEG's initiative effort.
The three House measures now go to the full Senate for debate.
SB136 would amend Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act to allow the new independent ethics commission to review complaints in private.
SB138 would allow the investigation's documents to be kept private unless the commission determines there is a finding of merit.
SJR3 would set out details of the proposed five-member commission and its advisory role as a "grand jury" to screen ethics allegations against lawmakers.