(KCPW News) The first two out of six ethics bills sponsored in the Utah Senate passed yesterday afternoon. Sen. Greg Bell said the state's ethics laws are inadequate, and the public's perception is that the Utah Legislature has serious ethics problems.
"Our constituents have believed that we're playing games, and that we're taking goodies," Bell said. "And I'm trying to create more disclosure — the word is transparency right now, I guess — so that people know what is actually happening."
Bell's ethics bill requires lobbyists to disclose meals and gifts to lawmakers above a threshold of $25. But it excludes the daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the Capitol sponsored by various organizations. Senate Democrats wanted to see the bill go further, but voted in favor of it anyway. The bill garnered only two no votes, from senators Chris Buttars and Margaret Dayton.
The other ethics bill considered yesterday closes a loophole in current law that allows lawmakers to spend campaign funds for personal use once they leave office. Bill sponsor Sen. John Valentine said the law currently forbids candidates and lawmakers from dipping into campaign funds, but doesn't address what should happen to the money after they re-enter the private sector.
"I haven't seen a big problem with the use, but the potential is very much there," Valentine said. "No one's gone through and sort of culled all the accounts and said: ‘OK, what has this person done when they are no longer in office?' Now we have the clear defining line that you can't use it for personal expenses."
Valentine's bill cleared the Senate with only one dissenting vote, again from Sen. Buttars. Ethics reform is one of the key legislative priorities this session. But the session is two-thirds over, and the majority of the 21 ethics bills introduced have not had public hearings.