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SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of ethics-related bills took an important step forward in a House committee. Some lawmakers say it was a first step in reform that the public demands.
The bottom line is creating more transparency, as well as new rules to deal with what many say is a big public perception problem on Utah's Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers are well aware that people are cynical about the "business-as-usual" in politics. They think these bills will address those concerns.The ethics reform issues were addressed as a group of five bills that are all running at once. One limits any lobbying gifts to $10 or under. Two other bills boost financial and conflict of interest disclosure requirements. Another prohibits use of campaign funds for personal use. Finally, a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a permanent ethics commission was proposed.
All these bills passed unanimously in the House ethics committee on Monday.
Still, some don't think the bills go far enough.
Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake, said, "I'm seeing there is a need by certain people in the Legislature to give the perception or impression that we're doing something for ethics reform. I think in reality, we're not doing enough."
Lawmakers say it's about time the ethics bills get a serious look. At the same time, most believe it is a public perception issue they're dealing with as opposed to serious flaws in the system.
House Minority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Davis County, said, "There is cynicism in the public. They think legislators are receiving benefits they shouldn't be receiving. We need to put that to rest. The people that serve here serve at a sacrifice, and they're not getting the gifts and expenditures and meals that people think they are."
The bills will probably evolve during the process, especially in the Senate, where there are a lot of members who have their own ideas about the ethics reform issue.