I had high hopes coming into the 2009 Legislative Session. I had hoped that something would be done about ethics reform this year. Finally, not only was the public ready (this year more than ever), but it seemed legislators were ready, too. Several complaints were brought forward just months earlier. These ethics complaints clearly demonstrated that legislators were unable to govern themselves when it came to following through on any action that might be brought against one of their own. Most agreed that they needed to fix it and many vowed to do just that.
In January of 2007, a Deseret News writer suggested that Utah would ban lobbyists' gifts "when pigs fly". When a few bills made it to the House Ethics Committee for consideration the committee members took the opportunity to blame the media for the public's "misperception" of ethics on the hill, claiming that they only know what the media tells them and often the media isn't giving them the entire picture. During discussion of HB 213 Ban on Gifts to Legislators they felt comfortable enough to joke that they had seen pigs flying above the capitol that morning and the Deseret News reporter was even in the room. At the end of the session, Speaker Clark was presented with a pig made out of wood - wings and all! The funny thing is, HB 213 was stalled in rules committee just as we suspected and it FAILED! How could they possibly have taken credit for flying pigs when there is no ban on gifts to Legislators?
Of the 21 ethics reform bills that were filed, only 5 of them were sent to the Governor for his signature. The Utah State Legislature website breaks it all down for us, but let me fill you in on some details.
HB 346 Campaign and Financial Reporting Requirements Amendments
You might find it interesting to know that HB 346, Campaign and Financial Reporting Requirements Amendments, originally required contributions and public service assistance to be reported within 5 days of the day on which they were received. The main purpose of this bill was to increase the speed of reporting requirements, thus making it more difficult for legislators to report donations after they had already been elected. It passed out of the House Ethics Committee with a favorable recommendation and then out of the House with a unanimous vote with original language. On the Senate floor the bill was substituted, meaning that changes were made to it, specifically that the 5 day reporting requirement was changed to 30 days. The bill was substituted yet again (on the very same day, two days before the end of the session) and under suspension of the rules it was considered read for the second and third time and a vote was taken and passed out of the Senate.
Senator Valentine made the first substitute that did the real damage. A second substitute was written up but not made public or voted on, and finally, Senator Bramble added definition language to the bill in the third and final substitute, essentially watering the bill down even more by adding more things that "Contribution" does NOT include.
When a bill undergoes that many changes after it has already passed out of the House it is necessary for the House to either "concur" or agree to the Senate amendments or take another vote. It is common practice for the House to concur on Senate Amendments and for the Senate to likewise concur with House amendments to Senate bills, especially as the session winds down to a close. What is that good for? Laws that haven't been closely scrutinized. Laws that lose their original intent. Only four representatives voted not to concur to the Senate amendments.
HJR 14 Joint Rules Resolution - Ethics Training Course Provisions
HJR 14 is the only piece of legislation that adds rules to ethics procedures and this is what concerned me the most. After all the problems the ethics committee complained about, not having the proper guidelines and guidance when it came to knowing if Greg Hughes was guilty of the complaints brought against him, I would have thought that they would try to fix their process and rules! The best they came up with is to have legislators undergo online training, but what happens the next time fellow legislators file another ethics complaint? Do the new rules requiring legislators to know what is ethical and what isn't ethical help the ethics committee with the problems they had last year?
To add to the debacle, the Senate mucked with this bill just like they did with HB 346. With only one day left in the session they amended the bill to include lobbyists! I might have thought that a great thing if it weren't for the last line of the amended bill. It states:
45a S. (6) A lobbyist who does not complete the training required by this rule is subject to an
45b ethics complaint under Senate or House rule. .S
- HB 213 Ban on Gifts to Legislators (When Pigs Fly!)
This is the big "when pigs fly" bill that they were prematurely celebrating. Someone might want to tell them that they have to pass this bill out and enact it into law in order for the pigs to fly! This did not pass, it got stuck in the House Rules Committee like so many other ethics bills this year and in previous years.
- SR 4 Senate Rules Resolution - Ethics Revisions
Stuck in Senate Rules Committee. This bill would have fixed some of the same problems the House Ethics Committee ran into for the next time there was a complaint against a Senator.
- SJR 19 Joint Resolution Regarding Legislative Ethics
Stuck in Senate Rules Committee. Minor adjustment that allows for Senate Rule to be followed when considering the make-up of a Senate Ethics Committee.
- SB 101 State Ethics Commission
This is what we needed! It was stuck in the Senate Rules Committee and would have created Utah's first and much needed independent State Ethics Commission.
- HJR 26 Joint Rules Resolution on the Selection of Ethics Committee Members
Stuck in House Rules Committee. This bill would have fixed some of the problems that last year's House Ethics Committee ran into, beginning with the composition of the committee.
- HB 312 Amended Campaign Finance Filings
This bill passed out of the House Government Operations Committee favorably and then passed out of the House but died in the Senate Education Committee. The sponsor of this bill was Sheryl Allen and it failed most likely due to retribution/payback. She was involved in the Hughes ethics complaint. Senator Bramble, an influential member of the Senate Education Committee, virtually admitted to conduct that is criminal during his testimony while defending Hughes.
- HB 282 Task Force on Legislative Reform
Another bill that might have actually had some real impact on ethics reform which the House Rules Committee held.
- HB 268 Legislator Reporting of Gifts and Other Items
This bill overlapped what SB 156 was doing and was held in the House Rules Committee.
- HB 159 Ethics Provisions
This bill addressed all the problems that were present during the Hughes investigation. It never made it past the House Rules Committee.
- HB 139 Legislator Gift Reporting Act
An overlap bill with SB 156 which was held in the House Rules Committee.
- HB 109 Modifications to Campaign Finance
This bill would have put a limit of $15,000 on campaign contributions and removed inconsistent definitions of "political purposes". It died in the House Rules Committee.
- HB 103 Revolving Door Limitation for Public Officials to Become Lobbyists
This was an overlap with HB 345 and kept in the House Rules Committee.
- HB 93 Establishment of State Ethics Commission
Another bill that would have established the State Ethics Commission. It's what the people want, but they didn't listen. It was left on the desk in, you guessed it, the House Rules Committee.
- HB 84 Campaign Financing and Gift Regulation
Another gift bill that was taken care of in SB 156. They had a few choices this year in regulating gifts and they kept this one in the House Rules Committee.
- SJR 15 Joint Rules Resolution - Legislative Ethics
Empty Bill that Sen. Valentine thought about doing something with but never did for whatever reason.
- HB 348 Creation of the Office of Inspector General
This bill didn't have language and didn't deserve language. It would have favored having one person judge the ethics of legislators instead of forming a commission. One person is subject to being influenced and being biased. Not a good idea.
So there you have it. The newspapers have apparently succumbed to the pressure to quit "misrepresenting" ethics on the hill. I've only seen a couple of stories that question whether or not ethics reform happened this year. It's quite clear to me that it did not and my next post will illustrate how out-of-control things got up there this year, specifically concerning Bramble's SB 199 which I like to call the anti-PTA bill. Talk about ethics!