Thursday, February 26, 2009

Std-Ex Guest Commentary: Independence Needed for Real Ethics Reform

If the Legislature is really going to tackle ethics, it needs to form an independent committee

The Standard-Examiner editorial page carries a thoughtful and informative guest commentary this morning, by LaWanna Shurtliff, our recently-retired Legislative District 10 House Representative, on the subject of Utah legislative ethics reform. Speaking from the perspective of a Utah legislator who co-chaired the House Ethics Committee for the previous six legislative sessions, she unreels a series of anecdotes revealing why the current ethics discipline system is a failure.

According to Ms. Shurtliff, the current system, whereby ethics complaints are heard by an ethics committee composed of legislative peers, a labyrinth of social, psychological and political factors prevents ethics complaints from even being filed in the first place, let alone to be fairly heard and determined.

Toward the bottom of the article Ms. Shurtliff issues a strong call for a change in the way ethics issues are decided on the hill:
If the Legislature is really going to tackle ethics, it needs to form an independent committee.
This committee should be given the charge to restructure the rules so they are more definitive.
They should have investigative powers along with independent legal counsel. Until this happens, legislators will be protected.
Unfortunately, Ms. Shurtliff's commentary tails off there. It would have been helpful, we think, if Ms. Shurtliff had given us a heads up on any pending legislation which would address this issue. We believe Ms. Shurtliff is right; but it would be a heck of a lot easier to get aboard Ms. Shurtliff's Independent Ethics Committee Bandwagon, if she had provided a pointer to those pending ethics reform bills (if any) which we could support.

Of course in Ms. Shurtliff's defense, there are "as many as 29" ethics reform bills pending on the hill, so we believe she can be forgiven for being unable to readily zero in on particular bills with remedial independent ethics committee provisions. We spent about a half hour earlier this morning searching through the morass of pending Utah legislation ourselves, by the way; and we couldn't find anything addressing that topic either.

So for purposes of discussing this morning's LaWanna Shurtliff guest editorial, we'll propose a two-tiered approach:

1) Don't fail to chime in on Ms. Shurtliff's general proposition, i.e., her proposal to replace the current "peer-based" ethics committee with one composed of "independent" members and support staff. We think it's a danged good idea. How about you?

2) And If anyone can provide us a pointer to any currently pending bill which approaches this issue, we'd like to be the first to know. We're aware of several legislators who regularly read this blog. Hopefully one of them will be willing to lend a helping hand with this.

Take it away, O Gentle Ones.


Curmudgeon said...

With all due respect to Lou, who used to be my representative and who I wish still was, and who spent five years in the thankless job of member of a legislative ethics committee, I don't think any ethics committee composed of legislators will be or can be independent in the way such a committee needs to be.

Nor will the legislators ever consent to having judgments about their ethics [or lack thereof] made by a truly independent [i.e. composed of non-legislators] committee.

So is there no solution?

Maybe. What about a ethics committee composed of former house members, divided 3/3 Democratic and Republican? They will not be worried about retaliation against their bills by members. They, having served in the house, will understand the way the house works, the various pressures and so on. It would combine the independence necessary for the committee to act when it thought necessary, with the element of "having been in our shoes" legislators will rightly demand of any ethics committee.

Worth a think?

oh ya! said...

I know that Rep. Hansen a democrat has a bill file open and from what I can tell it will take some of the politics out of the ethics committee. But because it is a democrats bill, I see being flushed down the toilet.

ozboy said...

There ainta gonna be any meaningful "ethics" legislation come out of this, or any other, session of the Utah Legislature.

They are already an ethically "perfect" body and they don't need no fixin. If you don't believe me ask them.

ole jenny said...

Tis a paradox.

Utah is supposedly so upright and honest - just ask any Mormon.

In my opinion it is the worst place I have ever lived for taking away individual political rights.

Buncha hypocrites!

For cry'in out loud!! said...

I agree with every post made so far. And I would suggest to you and anyone who reads this blog that the executive branch (the Governor) should make appointments to an independent commission. With the only qualification being that appointees NOT be, or have they EVER been, a legislator or lobbyist.

And those appointed should not be Morman "trained" beyond one-third (the actual practicing percentage of LDS membership in Utah) with the others selected based upon proven history of honorable service, and ethical standards themselves...which would leave out a considerable number of lawyers for example.

And yes, these ten or twelve should be delegated investigative/subpena powers and independent legal counsel from perhaps retired judges or senior Attorney General staff.

The real key is an outside objective look at "business as usual" in an LDS dominated and institutionalized system of self protection and corruption. As ole Jenny suggests. And as Oz correctly suggests, it ain't a gonna happen. Because this majority thinks they are "perfect and Saints" incapable of making immoral or incorrect decisions.

If you doubt that...start to listen for apologies from our LDS Brethern. They do not apologize because it is a sign of weakness, or so they are trained. Besides, Saints are incapable of making mistakes. Just ask them.

Folks, immigrants from outside Mormonism, as bizaar and almost inconceivable as it is...this is the simple truth and therefore why "It (real ethics reform) just ain't gonna happen."

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