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The legislation was introduced in response to the ethical problems of former lawmaker and ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, Phil Hamilton, revealed last year.
Hamilton is being investigated by a federal grand jury for his pursuit of a paid position at Old Dominion University while simultaneously carrying the enabling budget amendment that would have created that position.
House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-Henry) is carrying the legislation in the House of Delegates (HB657).
“It is important our citizens have faith in an open and honest government. As legislators we are here to represent the people’s interests, not our own interests,” Armstrong said.
Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) is carrying the accompanying bill in the Senate (SB186). He asked all members of the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to join in tightening Virginia’s conflict of interest laws.
“The citizens of Virginia entrust us to serve them with integrity and now more than ever in these tough economic times we need to serve as proper stewards of the state’s limited resources,” Northam said.
“Maintaining the public’s trust in its government should not be a Democratic or Republican issue, it should be a priority for all,” he said. “That’s why I hope and ask for members of both parties and in both chambers to join us in reforming these laws, and adding a long overdue dose of transparency to this process.”
The bills address Virginia’s General Assembly Conflicts of Interest statute, which has not been significantly revised in over 20 years. Highlights of HB657 and SB186 include:
· Creating a single five-member Ethics Advisory Panel, with appointments made by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and the Governor. Currently, there are two review panels – a House Ethics Advisory Panel, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, to investigate inquiries made about members of the House, and a Senate Ethics Advisory Panel, appointed by Senate Committee on Rules, to investigate inquiries made about members of the Senate.
· Requiring the panel to hold proceedings in public.
· Defining a legislator as in violation if he or she knew or should have known that his or her actions were in violation of ethical standards. Current law requires proof that the legislator knew that he or she was violating ethical standards.
· Ensuring that panel investigations continue even if a legislator resigns office.
Newly elected Del. Robin Abbott (D-Newport News) who replaced Hamilton joined Del. Armstrong and Sen. Northam at the press conference.
“During the course of my campaign, I pledged to lead the effort to bring much needed ethics reform to Richmond. I have fulfilled my promise by introducing four bills to be considered by the General Assembly during the 2010 Session relating to ethics reform. This legislation is absolutely necessary to ensure proper safeguards are in place to eliminate corruption,” she said.
The legislators pledged to work together and across party lines pass this landmark legislation.
Other introduced legislation includes:
· HB814 (Abbott, D-Newport News) which establishes one five-member Review Panel in place of the present separate House and Senate Ethics Advisory Panels.
· HB816 (Abbott, D-Newport News) which provides that once the House or Senate Ethics Advisory Panel has initiated an investigation into the conduct of a legislator, it must complete its inquiry, report its findings, and dispose of the matter as provided by law.
· HB321 (Plum, D-Fairfax) which requires a member of the General Assembly to disclose any wages or salary paid to him or an immediate member of his family, regardless of the amount, by a state or local government or advisory agency employer.
· HB328 (Plum, D-Fairfax) which requires the the Clerks of the House and Senate to establish a searchable electronic database, available to the public through the Internet, containing the information from the disclosure of personal interests statements filed by legislators, legislators-elect, and candidates for the General Assembly.
· HB642 (Armstrong, D-Henry) Provides that payments to a member for office expenses and supplies may be made only upon the member’s submission of a voucher for the expenses.
· SB14 (Howell, D-Fairfax) which requires a member of the General Assembly to disclose in his annual disclosure of personal interests any salary and wages in excess of $10,000 paid to him or his immediate family for employment with a state or local government or advisory agency.