Utah Legislature: GOP, Democrats team for ethics reform

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 9:46 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — In a bipartisan effort, Republicans and Democrats in the 2010 Legislature passed a handful of ethics bills.

Leaders say it was both an unprecedented cooperative effort and the most far-reaching ethics reform in state history.

"Between what we did last year and this year, we've changed the way business is conducted up here," said House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, who pushed ethics reform.

"We hope the public recognizes it. And we aren't finished; over the summer we'll take up our code of conduct" and work on that in the 2011 session.

As impressive as the effort was, the bills still fall short of what several citizens initiative petition supporters want, and short of what was originally promised by GOP leaders themselves before the session started.

The dozen-bill package includes a constitutional amendment setting up an independent ethics commission; tougher conflict of interest reporting for lawmakers and candidates alike; more disclosure of campaign financing; lobbyist gift ban over $10, with reporting lawmakers' names who take a meal costing more than $10; and stricter control over personal use of campaign accounts.

However, lawmakers did not impose campaign contribution limits, as leaders originally favored and as recommended by a special governor's commission.

Utah remains one of only five states that don't limit campaign contributions.

Lawmakers did not set up an independent redistricting commission or allow lawmakers to abstain from voting when they have a clear conflict of interest.

GOP lawmakers also passed a bill that will allow the Utah Republican Party, which strongly opposes citizen petitions on ethics and redistricting, to get the names of petition signees and lobby them to remove their names, thus harming the chances that the issues will make the November ballot for voter consideration.

Kim Burningham, chairman of Utahns for Ethical Government, said while his group appreciates what lawmakers did, their efforts fall well short of what the UEG initiative would do.

And he criticized lawmakers for the "cynical" move to harm the citizens initiative process and for shielding citizens from any attempt to set up in law how ethics complaints against legislators will be handled in the future.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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