Ethics reform moves forward as commission outlines recommendations

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The push to reform ethics on Utah's Capitol Hill appears to be gaining momentum.

On Wednesday, a special commission on democracy wrapped up its work, and the group is offering lawmakers a series of recommendations.

Utah is currently one of just a few states with no limits at all, and is considered to have some of the nation's weakest ethics rules. But thanks to pressure from the public the commission, that now may soon be changing.

Leaders of a pair of citizen petition efforts say they're confident they will collect the 95,000 signatures needed by the April deadline to put the measures on next year's ballot.

The field director for the group Fair Boundaries, which is pushing for an independent redistricting commission, believes lawmakers won't pursue it in the next legislative session.

"I doubt seriously they'll address it," Glenn Wright says. "They've had opportunities in the last six legislative sessions to address it. There have been similar legislation proposed, and at no time did it ever get out of rules."

Former Senate Majority Leader Karl Snow, a Utah County Republican, says a multi-faceted ethics initiative is gaining steam, though many current lawmakers oppose it.

"Over time, there has emerged an atmosphere where special interests are donating such large sums of money that it is putting a cloud on the Legislature, in terms of contributions, but other actions which border on unethical or right out unethical," Snow says.

Meanwhile, the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy, organized by former Gov. Jon Huntsman, has delivered a platter of eight recommendations. One is to set limits on campaign contribution, which the governor -- in a reversal -- and legislative leaders appear to be willing to consider.

"I think there is a critical mass that is going to force change, and the real question will be whether the Legislature enacts the change itself in this session or it waits for the ballot initiatives to help determine that fate," says Kirk Jowers, acting chair of the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy.


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