Virginia Houses of Delegates passes ethics reform bill

state-capitol2The Virginia House of Delegates passed ethics reform legislation Tuesday that creates a $100 gift cap and significantly strengthens the independent advisory panel created in 2014. The legislation also prohibits the Governor from accepting campaign contributions from companies seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and limits the personal friend exemption to exclude personal friends who have or are seeking business relationships with state or local government.

Speaking about the ethics reform bill, Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said, “The General Assembly took meaningful steps last year to improve our ethics laws. But as I wrote in September of last year, it was clear that the public demanded further action. I said then that the General Assembly would take the necessary steps to help restore the public’s trust in government. I believe the action we have taken will go a long way toward achieving that goal. We are enacting a strict gift cap, strengthening independent oversight and making our financial disclosure system more accessible and transparent.”

House Bill 2070, introduced by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) passed 93 to 6. Gilbert also carried last year’s omnibus ethics reform bill.

“The House of Delegates continues to lead the effort to enact meaningful reforms to Virginia’s ethics, transparency and disclosure laws,” said Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). “This legislation builds on the substantial reforms passed last year. It will improve transparency, hold elected officials more accountable and hopefully restore some of the public’s trust in government.”

Legislation passed in 2014 created a $250 cap on tangible gifts. HB 2070 eliminates the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts and lowers the cap to $100. The $100 cap is lower than the $250 cap proposed by Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Integrity Commission. HB 2070 also strengthens the Conflict of Interest Advisory Council, the independent ethics panel created in 2014. Governor McAuliffe vetoed funding for this council despite signing the law that created it. Under this bill, the council will be responsible for pre-approving legislative travel. Lawmakers will now also be required to submit financial disclosure forms online, so the council can easily post them in a searchable database for public review. The Council was created in 2014 to serve as a central repository for disclosure forms, to make the available to the public and to provide guidance and advice on ethics-related issues.

“We set a $250 gift cap last year, but it was clear after hearing from citizens across the Commonwealth that the public demanded more. The $100 gift cap is a reasonable and clear limit that is easy for the public and elected officials to understand,” said Gilbert.  The council we created last year will play a significant role in making government and those who serve more open and responsive to the public. Our actions this year strengthen this commission. Requiring pre-approved travel and online disclosure are commonsense steps.”

HB 2070 incorporates legislation vetoed by Governor McAuliffe last year that would prohibit the Governor from accepting campaign contributions from companies knowingly seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund.

“It is important that public officials avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest,” said LeMunyon. “This is an obvious fix to an existing loophole to which no one should object.”

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