Exactly what is an item a legislator could ethically keep, and what is a gift that should be returned to the giver, is at the heart of an ethics reform bill being drafted by a pair of politicians.
"Is this a gift?" said Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, holding up a blue pennant with a picture of a skier on it. He said he recently received the item at a meeting with state economic development officials.
And what about a lunch meeting? Who pays? Mascaro said.
"That is a good question, and that is exactly why we need this legislation," said Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake.
Jones and Mascaro announced a Pledge for Legislative Ethics Reform in an event at the Capitol on Wednesday.
To be signed by legislators, the pledge states the politician vows to support and work for passage of ethics reform legislation during the upcoming session. The legislation is to provide the citizens of Utah a "more open, honest, ethical and transparent government."
The ethics reform would require legislators to give full disclosure of received gifts such as meals, tickets or trips. It also would prohibit legislators from using campaign contributions for anything other than campaign expenses or duties related to public office.
Under current state law, only gifts over $50 need to be reported by lobbyists with the legislator's name attached. Campaign funds can be used for anything, including personal expenses, even if they are not tied to the campaign.
This is an issue of accountability, Jones said. "When people give us a campaign contribution, I doubt very much they are attempting to build our personal wealth," she said. "It is so important we use those funds in a way the donor intended."
The proposed reform is backed by Utahns for Public Schools, a group which was formed to oppose last year's private school voucher issue.
Besides Mascaro and Jones, legislators who signed the pledge at Wednesday's event are: Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Brad King, D-Price; Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful; and Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray.
Several other legislators, including Rep. Fred Hunsaker, R-Logan, indicated they intend to sign the pledge and hand it in later.Additional information, including a copy of the pledge and a list of candidates and legislators who have signed it, is to be posted soon at utahnsforpublicschools.org.
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