State senators and House Democratic representatives agreed Wednesday, in separate caucuses, to voluntarily file new, tougher conflict of interest disclosure statements.
House Republicans didn't caucus during the regular, monthly legislative interim study day Wednesday. But GOP House leaders say they believe most, if not all, of their members will also file the statements.Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton - sponsor of an ethics resolution that passed the Senate unanimously in the 1991 session but wasn't considered by the House - suggested Wednesday that lawmakers file such a conflict of interest disclosure statement voluntarily until the new rules can be adopted during the 1992 session.
"If you make a written report, this will comply with (state statute) 76-8-109," Barlow said, referring to a portion of the existing state Criminal Code that states any legislator who fails to disclose "personal or private interest" in any measure or bill proposed or pending before the Legislature and votes on the legislation is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.
A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
But lawmakers are split over whether it's better to file a written disclosure statement or verbally declare conflicts of interest when legislation is debated and voted upon.
While agreeing to file the new statement, some senators, among them Sens. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, and George Mantes, D-Tooele, said they want the Legislature's ethics committees to meet regularly to establish clear-cut standards of conduct.
"My integrity has been impugned by this thing. Everyone in this room has been impugned by the articles and editorials in the newspaper, and I don't like it," Mantes said, referring to conflict of interest allegations against Sen. Stephen Rees, R-West Valley.
House Democratic leaders asked their members to list any possible conflict, no matter how remote. Barlow's resolution says any business interest more than $10,000 should be listed. "But I think we should list any interest, no matter how small," said House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake.
For example, Pignanelli said if a legislator owns Mountain Fuel Supply Co. stock, and if there were a bill saying the state should start buying gas-powered automobiles, "then you'd better declare the stock."
Pignanelli guesses that when the final rule is adopted during the 1992 Legislature, "the filing will be mandatory, not voluntary as now, the $10,000 limit will be lowered and the reporting requirements expanded to include any state work your company is involved in."
House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, said he's greatly troubled by some of the conflicts of interests he's seen in the Legislature. "I'm going to file an ethics bill (for next session) that requires disclosure of all stocks, investments, board of director appointments, everything. The Democrats should lead out on this thing."