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Editorial: Ethics reform bill a good step to rebuild confidence

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

A bill progressing through the West Virginia Legislature underscores the notion that public officials should be focused on serving their constituents rather than themselves, their families or their friends. That’s a good principle to reinforce.

The legislation, House Bill 2001, is touted as an ethics reform bill, and on Monday it was approved in the House of Delegates by a vote of 98-0. Among its co-sponsors is Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell.

Among the several new or changed provisions to state law is one that makes it clear that local and state public officials are not supposed to use their influence to favor their family members with government jobs. Most would assume a prohibition of nepotism was already on the books. However, the state’s Ethic Commission noted heading into the current legislative session that while the state’s ethic laws offer guidance on how to avoid nepotism, the Ethics Act did not specifically list nepotism as a violation. This bill removes any doubt about whether nepotism is allowed.

Beyond that, the bill includes several provisions aimed at eliminating potential conflicts of interest and increasing transparency regarding the awarding of grants and contracts.

One change closed a potential ethics gap related to public officials channeling funds to non-profit boards that they serve on. Under current law, it was OK for an official to funnel money to a non-profit board he or she sits on so long as the non-profit’s board was unpaid. HB 2001 requires that in such cases public officials must recuse themselves from any votes related to that funding, regardless of whether they were paid or unpaid, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

In an effort to provide more transparency regarding who benefits from state contracts, HB 2001 also requires companies and consultants who have state contracts to reveal the names of anyone who has at least a 25 percent stake in the contract. In addition, names of lawyers, brokers and advisors working on the contract must be disclosed. All that information would then be reported to the Ethics Commission and made available for the public to see.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, described the legislation as part of lawmakers’ efforts to rebuild public confidence in government – a worthwhile goal at a time when many members of the public are skeptical about their government representatives’ motivations. This legislation alone won’t accomplish that by itself, but it is a good step and warrants passage into law.

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