It's OK, if we don't get caught.

Today, more kids cheat in school and see it as OK, perhaps not unlike what we see going on with a few Utah legislators. It seems you can misbehave and, as long as you don't get caught or no one says anything, it's OK. It looks like our children are learning one thing at home and school, and now seeing those lessons ignored by some lawmakers.

On the school grounds and at the dinner table, we teach our children how to play fair, be kind and honest, and follow the rules. In the home and at school, there are adults — parents and teachers — to make sure those lessons are followed. Do the right thing. It's called socialization, the foundation of our civil society. And it works, because most of us behave that way, even if no one is around.

Now our children are seeing some lawmakers, who ought to serve as role models, ignore what parents and teachers still teach about ethical behavior. There are adults who complain about seeing out-of-control celebrities and Washington politicians break the rules of civility and even the law, yet few raise their voices about Utah legislators' ethical behavior. It should surprise no one that we see children breaking the rules and saying, "It's OK because others are doing it; besides, no one said anything."

Utah lawmakers talk about accountability, transparency, the rule of law, morality, yet their actions make their words sound hollow. They make the laws that guide civil society and should be role models for citizens. However, more and more we see some of them act as though the law does not apply to them. Besides, no one says anything about it.

As one teacher wrote to me recently after the incident of a senator's "dark, ugly baby" comment on the senate floor, "Why no one stood up to shout, 'I protest!' is beyond me," and went on to note that while the class was reading a book that depicts many of the horrifying parts of Jim Crow life in the old South ... first- and-second grade students could not stop themselves from interrupting on each page of this book to protest all the injustice they saw depicted." If children get it, how come some lawmakers don't?

Last May, the same senator sent a letter inappropriately criticizing a judge; however, it was just last week, and only after the press discovered and made the letter public, that Senate leadership admonished him. The message to youths: If poor conduct goes unnoticed, don't say anything.

As adults, we are guided by the lessons in our heads that our parents taught us, and which become our moral compass. Some no longer need parental supervision; and for those who break the law, we have cops and courts to remind us of our failings. You would expect those lessons to work; however, some lawmakers seem to forget them, or act as though they are beyond the law. When they break the rules of conduct, there are no adults to supervise them.

Those in power seem to ignore their own rules and fail to pass ethical reform laws to guide their own behavior. Their ethics committee seems unable to see any violations, even though the public sees many. It's time the public demanded they establish an independent commission to investigate ethics violations by lawmakers. Maybe then they could apply the same standard as the second-grade students who protested the injustices they read about.

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: