With little debate, the House Rules Committee killed a proposed ethics commission bill Thursday that would have allowed everyday citizens to file complaints against any legislator, the governor, attorney general and other elected state officials.
Currently there is no way anyone can bring an ethics complaint against the governor, attorney general, auditor or treasurer.
Both the House and Senate have internal ethics committees, but only fellow colleagues can bring a complaint. Three House members can bring an ethics complaint against another House member, same with the Senate. The ethics committees rarely meet, and in more than 20 years no internal ethics investigation has resulted in any kind of action taken against a legislator.
Quoting a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll, sponsor of HB130, Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake, said following the killing of her bill: "Seventy-two percent of Utahns want to see the question of ethics addressed by the Legislature. This is a well thought-out approach, and 39 other states have a similar law" where an outside agency reviews ethics complaints against an elected official.
HB130 would keep all complaints and hearings private until some kind of decision is handed down by a five-member commission. Even then, there are no fines or penalties other than just having the commission make public a censure or other finding against an elected official. If the complaint is dismissed, there is no public record that it was ever made.
But House Rules Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said in making a motion to kill the measure: "There are a lot of questions and concerns (about HB130), and it is not ready for prime time."
The Rules Committee sends bills out to standing committees for public hearings. Holding a bill in Rules basically kills it, for it can't proceed in the legislative process.
"I will start now lobbying each member of the Rules Committee," said McGee, to let her bill out for a hearing.
In years gone by, backers of so-called government reform bills have taken the extreme measure of trying to lift their bill from Rules, a move that takes a majority, 38 votes, if the bill has not been tabled in Rules. (A tabled bill would require an even greater majority two-thirds of the 75-member House to vote it out of Rules.) HB130 was not tabled, just held.
"I believe the public will be very, very disappointed if the Rules Committee holds" HB130, said McGee.
But government reform bills historically have not even had the backing of some Democratic legislators, whose members usually carry such bills. In Thursday's Rules vote, only Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, voted against Hughes' holding motion. Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley, voted with all the Republicans on Rules to hold McGee's ethics bill.McGee said the fact that the current House and Senate ethics committees never meet and that there are rarely any ethics complaints made against House or Senate members shows that "the current process is ineffective and our own members have little confidence in that process."