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2009 Legislature makes significant headway in ethics reform



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SALT LAKE CITY -- After several ethics scandals last year, lawmakers used the 2009 legislative session to pass several ethics reform bills. Thursday, GOP leaders called the changes "major" and "significant."

One law that passed makes it harder to hide gifts. Now all gifts worth more than $10, and food and beverage purchases worth more than $25, must be reported.

In addition, Lawmakers must now wait a year before becoming a paid contract lobbyist. They also have to disclose campaign contributions every 30 days and now can't spend campaign money on personal use.

Also, all lawmakers and lobbyists must now take online ethics training.

"We certainly had more stringent desires on ethics reform, but it's been many years coming. I know I've sponsored gift ban bills, reasonable ones, in the past. Many Democrats have, but I think this is a step in the right direction," said Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones.

Government watchdogs say Utah could do more. According to the Hinckley Institute of Politics, 33 other states make lobbyists disclose the how much money they're paid, 43 other states select statewide nominees through a primary election, and 36 other states limit campaign contributions and require contributors to list their occupation or employers.

"On contributions, that's political free speech. Now could we have some caps? We could have a good conversation about that, but we're not going to go to public funding, as far as I'm concerned," said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights.

Also discussed: the possibility of creating an independent ethics commission. But that will have to wait for another year.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

John Daley

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