Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Ethics Bills Already Raising Questions....And Eyebrows

Over the past couple of days, the Salt Lake Tribune has followed up on the question of ethics in Utah's legislature. An article in today's paper, for example, highlights the misuse of lobbyist gifts, and provides some insight into the nearly $170,000 in lobbyist gifts legislators racked up last year. Insight, becomes a contradiction in terms with regard to gifts, however, since the vast majority of them have been obscured from public view and almost entirely undisclosed. That is all supposed to change and is something, among other ethics reforms, that many of us have been calling for.

On Monday, a hint of things to come (at least in terms of dialogue and the appearance of change) came in the form of an ethics package consisting of four bills. I've said before, I want to be, blown away, by real change in the legislature. I want these bills to be a real step towards transparency in government and a commitment to putting the public trust and service before monetary gain and political agendas.

Keep your eye on the process of finding consensus and, ultimately, acceptance of these bills, folks. It's bound to reveal a lot about some of our "public servants" and their motives for serving. I hope it raises a few questions for you like it does for me. For example, is Senate President, Michael Waddoups, serious when he says, of banning lobbyist gifts, that "we're inclined to think that disclosure is a better thing than prohibition, because prohibition tends to turn well-meaning acts into criminal acts." WHAT? Is this the same guy who wants liquor to be "prohibited" from even being viewed in Utah restaurants? Does anyone else see the incongruity, no, the borderline schizophrenia here? In addition, a few legislators are squirming in the face of bill "four" in the package which prohibits legislators from becoming lobbyists for a year after they leave office....with no mention of what that means for current legislators who are already paid lobbyists for various industries.

Let the shakedown begin.