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Ethics Reform

Open Letter to Governor McAuliffe:

I am in complete support of the intent of the ethics reform bill HB 2070. However, after careful reading of the final version which was presented at the end of the very last day of this session, I have serious concerns about a number of points and urge you to amend HB 2070 with the following in mind:

1) The composition of the Ethics Council;

• Membership consists solely of legislators and one retired judge, who could well have been a legislator;

• Members are not required to have specific expertise, training or experience;

• Members are appointed by small group of legislators without the input or approval of the Governor, General Assembly or the public;

2) There are no operating procedures or guidelines for the Ethics Council operating procedures. If the driving goal of ethics reform is to rebuild the now-shaken public trust, the nuts and bolts of how the Council will function is key.

As always, the devil is in the details and the details need to be vetted in the sunshine. Let’s see answers to these questions:

• How will decisions be made? majority vote? unanimous consent? how many members must be present for business to be conducted?

• What is the role of the Executive Director? as a voting Council member or purely advisory?

• Are meetings open to the public? agendas published? votes recorded? minutes posted?

• Are Council documents/records available under FOIA?

HB 2070 covers not only members of the Legislature, but all locally elected governing bodies as well, including school boards.

 

Provisions in this bill allow these local officials to exempt any of their members, appointees and/or employees from filing disclosure forms, and the disclosure forms that are filed locally are required to be stored only at the local level – no longer will continue to be submitted to the state and made public electronically.

Undefined terms such as ‘reasonable amount of time’ for many required disclosures and “substantially similar forms” used for such disclosures weaken the bill and offer very tempting loopholes.

HB 2070 also contains provisions which exempt the deans and chairs of public institutions of higher education from disclosure. How is this special treatment justified?

There is no clear limit on reporting of aggregate gifts to any elected representatives.

Finally, I am particularly concerned that HB 2070 is silent on the so-called Revolving Door for legislators, i.e. the ability to resign office and accept high-paying state government positions without penalty or sanction.

Governor, all Virginians are looking to you to approve only the most ethical of Ethics Reform legislation – please reform HB 2070.

 

Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.