Statewide Code of Ethics - Feb 14, 2024

Chairman McCarthy noted that the House Government Operations Committee would be reviewing Draft 3.2 of the state ethics bill on Wednesday morning and asked Legislative Counsel to review the changes made to previous draft. 

The draft made clear that only statewide officers, and not legislators, must submit (annually) a partially redacted U.S. individual income tax return form 1030. If a candidate is self-employed, they have to provide the names of any client with business before any municipal or state office, department, or agency. Any private loans a candidate made to a company that a candidate owns a 10% or more share.

Any entity receiving ethics complaints would now be required to consult with the Ethics Commission regarding the application of the State Code of Ethics. Another addition enables the Commission to investigate alleged unethical conduct occurring within the prior two years with or without receiving a complaint. Investigations must conclude within six months and may result in an ‘investigation report’ and subsequent Commission hearing if there is a reasonable basis to believe that the public servant’s conduct constitutes an unethical violation.

A new provision allowing a ‘resolution agreement’ with a public servant under investigation which would pause and proceedings or penalties. There would be a three-month check-back to ensure compliance with the agreement. The Commission may also waive the application of a rule with a two-thirds vote.

Finally, any investigation reports from an ethics complaint were exempted from the Public Records Act provided that the evidence does not warrant a hearing. Any evidence presented in a public portion of a hearing would be public record, as would any warnings, reprimands, and recommendations issued by the Commission. Resolution agreements would also be public record.

Main themes in the underlying bill include:

  • Enabling the Commission to hold public hearings for the purpose of gathering evidence and testimony and making determinations. Both the public servant and any complainant will be afforded an opportunity to be heard at the hearing, present evidence, respond to evidence, and argue on all issues related to the alleged unethical misconduct.
  • Enabling the Commission to issue warnings, reprimands, and recommended actions. The recommendations may include facilitated mediation, additional training and education, referrals to counseling and wellness support, or other remedial actions.
  • Directing the Commission to adopt rules regarding procedural and evidentiary aspects of the Commission’s investigations and hearings.
  • Granting the Commission the power to issue subpoenas and administer oaths in connection with any investigation.

McCarthy noted that there are no big changes made in this draft. The one big decision remaining is about the disclosure of a candidate’s clients. It was narrowed down to the words “known to have” contracts with the state, but Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Ethics Commission) said it could be narrowed down even further. The narrower version of the language would be a “client that is regulated by state government” (such as clients regularly applying for permits).

McCarthy asked that any recommended language be provided Legislative Counsel by the end of the week. 

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