Ethics reform in motion on Utah's Capitol Hill

By John Daley | Posted - Jan. 28, 2010 at 5:09 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A major election year showdown may be coming over the issue of ethics.

A citizen's group is gathering signatures to put the issue on the ballot, and momentum is growing on Capitol Hill for a constitutional amendment on ethics that is backed by lawmakers.

If lawmakers approve it, voters would vote next fall on whether to make an ethics commission, set up by the Legislature, part of the Utah Constitution.

A group called Utahns for Ethical Government is gathering signatures for a measure to set up an independent ethics commission and a code of conduct for lawmakers to ban gifts from lobbyists and to set strict campaign contribution limits. Utah currently has no limits.

But lawmakers see their proposed constitutional amendment as a way to address the public's concerns without the citizen's petition, which many lawmakers and the state Republican Party oppose.

The constitutional amendment would establish a five-member ethics commission made up of three retired judges and two retired lawmakers. The commission would hear complaints against lawmakers in private.

Former Senate president Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, says he will be actively campaigning for the ethics amendment and possibly raising money for the cause.

"I do have a campaign account, as others do, and I have the ability to raise funds from those who believe this is good public policy. So if an active campaign were needed, I believe we could raise funds and tell people about the message," Valentine said.

In a statement Wednesday, the group Utahns for Ethical Government say it opposes the idea of what it sees as secret ethics hearings.

It calls the amendment a "cynical political ploy to confuse the public."

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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