Necessity of ethics bill speaks of larger problem

By By John Hannon

By John Hannon

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, recently introduced House Bill 159, Ethics Provisions, which would change the way ethics complaints are dealt with in the Legislature. Allen’s plan calls for the creation of an independent ethics committee, comprised of five people appointed by various members of the Legislature, to investigate complaints regarding lawmaker ethics.

In response to numerous allegations of misconduct on Capitol Hill, there has been much debate about what needs to be done. And though this plan isn’t likely to be accepted anytime in the next month, it might be interesting to examine what lawmakers consider to be a problem among the Legislature in terms of ethics.

Included in the bill are the following provisions, which apparently were being abused enough to prompt their creation:

* Lawmakers must disclose any conflict of interest

Here’s something that could be misleading. Perhaps the degree of interest might have been a point of confusion for lawmakers when deciding whether it was necessary to disclose.

* Lawmakers cannot offer or accept a bribe for political favors

This is a good one. There are probably numerous representatives who feel it is just good old-fashioned ethical lobbying.

* Lawmakers cannot threaten an individual or public official’s employment

It’s a damn good thing they’ve straightened that one out.

* Lawmakers cannot act based on inside information obtained through an official position

It’s just a good thing for this to be in writing. Clear up any confusion about when it’s wrong to gain financially from information you’ve obtained as a publicly elected official.

* Lawmakers cannot attempt to intervene in a legal proceeding to which they are not party

Apparently Chris Buttars, everyone’s favorite senator from West Jordan, tried to throw his weight around in an attempt to help a friend of his in Mapleton after a ruling went against him.

Thank God that we’ve gotten those out of the way. Now, if lawmakers are wondering whether or not they should feel shady about a decision they have made, they can reference this bill.

There’s just one problem. I don’t know any rational individual who doesn’t inherently know that any of the above things are wrong. In fairness, I left out some of the parts that probably do clarify some things that are considered questionable. But I am blown away that there is a necessity for these types of provisions in an ethics package. It amazes me that there was actually an elected official who has been plagued with accusations of threatening public employees with termination. The fact that a bill like this would even be considered is a little frightening. If our elected lawmakers are having difficulty deciding whether or not it is okay to make threats, abuse their power and accept bribes, we have a much larger problem than a bill is going to fix.

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John Hannon