Monday, February 16, 2009

SL Trib: Conflicts of Interests Are Found in Many Bills

Two common sense proposed resolutions to allow legislators to avoid conflicts of interest

To kick off the discussion as we begin the new week, we'll highlight an enlightening article from yesterday's Deseret News, dealing with a topic that's near and dear to our hearts here at Weber County Forum, ethics reform in general, and conflicts of interest, specifically. Here's the gist of the problem, culled from Bob Bernick, Jr.'s lead paragraphs:
More than half of Utah's 104 part-time legislators have introduced bills with likely conflicts of interests, a study by the Deseret News shows.
The newspaper found that 61 percent of House members and 55 percent of senators are sponsoring bills that could affect their private or business lives in some ways. [...]
A conflict of interest is generally defined as a conflict between a person's private interests (financial or otherwise) and his or her public position.
But the Legislature's conflict-of-interest rules are so vague (and, at the same time, so narrow on financial matters) that legislators themselves, much less the public, often don't know exactly when they need to declare a conflict, or what to do about it when they do. [Emphasis added]
Although the main theme of the article deals with efforts to tighten up definitions, and to provide more clear guidance for legislators who may have conflicts of interest, there's a sub-theme to this session's conflict of interest story which particularly caught our eye:
While Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a number of legislators are talking about ethics reform in this Legislature, conflict of interest appears to be a weak sister that's not getting much attention.
So far, there are only a few bills dealing with conflicts. The main push comes in two resolutions sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. [S.R. 5 and S.J.R. 13]
Both Bramble bills deal with allowing legislators to declare a conflict of interest and abstain from voting on the bill or appropriation in which the lawmaker may have a conflict.
Currently, legislators have to vote if they are present on the floor. They can even be rounded up by state troopers and brought into the chambers and forced to vote — even if they have a conflict on a matter and don't want to vote. [Emphasis and links added]
There are numerous ethics reform bills rattling around the legislature this year; so many, in fact, that it's hard to keep track. At this stage of the game it's impossible to predict what new ethics guidelines will ultimately be enacted this session.

Nevertheless, the wisdom of passing Senator Bramble's two proposed resolutions seem a "no brainer" to us. Regardless of the form of new ethics reforms which may emerge this year, any new legislation will inevitably expose legislators to charges of voting on matters in which they have conflicts, unless the current mandatory voting rules are changed. Under present rules, even ethically conscientious legislators have no way to voluntarily disentangle themselves from their own conflicts of interest.

We therefore urge our readers to contact their legislative representatives in The Senate and The House to urge passage of Sen. Bramble's proposed common sense rule amendments, permitting legislators to declare and abstain from voting on any bill or appropriation in which lawmakers believe they have a conflict of interest.

Comments are invited as always.


Curmudgeon said...

Just out of curiosity, aren't legislators allowed to vote "present"? In most legislatures, this is I think permitted. Isn't it in Utah?

If it is, there already exists a way for ethical legislators to avoid casting a vote on which they have a conflict of interest problem: vote "present."

Even if "present" votes are an option now, Bramble's idea is a sound one. ["Bramble's idea is a sound one." Damn! I can't believe I wrote that. Now I'll have to set up the sweat lodge in the back yard and undergo ritual cleansing. Probably twice. At least. ]

RudiZink said...

Nope, Curm. In Utah, legislators "must" vote on every bill, when they are present at the legislature. And, as a matter of fact, when a house "call to vote" is now broadcast via blackberry, it's even harder for ethically conscientious legislators now to "take a walk" to avoid voting on on bills where conflicts of interest exist.

Nevertheless, it's still fairly common to find inadvertantly conflicted legislators hiding out in restroom stalls, linen closets and other legislative nooks and crannies up there on the hill.

It would be much more dignified and elegant, we think, for legislators to simply be permitted to "declare and abstain," I think.

ozboy said...

I still have a hundred bucks that says there will be no significant or meaningful ethics reform come out of this Legislative session. The bulk of the so called Republican "leadership" likes things just the way they are and will do nothing to change it except put up a lot of fireless smoke like they are doing now. In the end there will be a lot more talk about ethics reform than there will be ethics reform.

Bill C. said...

Hell Oz, you're really sticking your neck out. Must have read the article in todays paper, budget going to dominate from here on. My guess is the only stuff other than budget that'll get to the floor now will be some twisted narrow interpretations of "family values" and of course the last minute leadership list all crammed into one last bill as usual, leaving no time for any legislator to know what it contains.

Curmudgeon said...

OK, thanks. Didn't know that. The only option existing now, then, would be for a conscientious conflicted rep. to arrange a kind of informal "pair" [similar to the congressional practice] with a conflicted legislator on the other side of the matter, if he could find one, so that each's vote would cancel out the other's. But that's a cumbersome convoluted process. Bramble's idea is a superio... Bramble's bill is goo... The Bramble proposal is clearly bett....
[Damn. I can't type that twice in one thread. This is the best I can do: "I understand some legislators have proposed a solution that sounds workable."]

monotreme said...

I want to type "Bramble's bill is a good idea," but like Curm, I have a hard time doing it.

I'll just point out, then, that as the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day -- or twice a legislative session. I'll wait patiently for the second time.

Bill C. said...

Curm and Mono, more of a local flavor," even the blind sqirrel occationally finds an acorn", we are the home of the world famous "squirrel patrol".
It may console you to point out that not all legislation introduced is the product of the mind of the legislator that introduces it. HB 122 is a good example, it was concieved by our idiotic AG Shirtliff. So it stands to reason that if this bill lacks elements of greed, nepotism or general corruption, it isn't a byproduct of Brambles cognitive ponderings.

Anonymous said...

A solution: rational self interest.

Persons in the state of Utah will act in ways that are in accordance with their own rational selves interest.

Everyone acts as their own chief executive.

A legislative body, selected wholly at random, from a pool consisting of all adult citizens of the state, will convene once a year for a period of 6 days.

All laws will be subject to a final vote before all citizens of the state over the age of 14, and will require a 75 percent majority to become legislation.

The oldest wisest person in each county, so selected by a contest of wiles at an annual county fair will ride circuit for that area.

An Appellate Court will be selected using the Ostrich and Vole Method, as per Roberts.

A Supreme Court will be formed by caucus, appointing the most successful persons from the most respected families in the state; a preference given to the oldest of the active judges.

By law sales taxes can only be used for essential infrastructure and state militia.

Have at it.

We love this town.

G.O.P. OUT DO THIS said...

Ethic in Utah? We don't need Ethics in Utah, because the stinking republicans of the I CAN party say they can do anything they want, because they can!!!!!

democrat said...

The republicans can do anything they want, because the press wont do their job.

The press kisses the republicans because the republicans give the press your tax money, in the form of "Economic Development" so they won't expose the coruption in the GOP.

Standard Examiner would say said...

Howell and Schwebke are not gay and never have been gay.

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