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WV lawmakers pass nepotism ban


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed an ethics reform bill Monday that seeks to shore up a ban on nepotism in state and local government.

The legislation also prohibits public officials from steering funds to nonprofit groups whose boards they serve on. In addition, the omnibus bill includes provisions that shine more light on state contracts and who stands to benefit financially from them.

“[This is] among the bills we’re considering this session in an effort to rebuild public confidence in government,” said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer.

For years, the state Ethics Commission has held that nepotism violates ethics laws that bar public officials from using their office for private gain. But current state law doesn’t specifically address nepotism.

“The bill adds an express provision that nepotism violates the Ethics Act,” said Shott, who heads the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the bill, “a public official or employee may not knowingly or intentionally influence…show favoritism or grant patronage in the employment or working conditions with his or her relative, or a person with whom he or she resides.”

“Relatives” subject to the proposed nepotism ban include a spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandparents and all in-laws.

The legislation also closes a loophole under existing law that allows public officials to steer funds to nonprofit boards they sit on, provided they aren’t paid by the organizations.

The ethics reform bill requires public officials to recuse themselves from such funding votes, even if they’re unpaid, nonprofit board members.

“If the city council member is president of the local Little League and seeks funding for a new baseball field, the council member would have to recuse himself from the vote, if the council desires to give money to the Little League,” Shott said. “The law does not preclude the appropriation, rather it simply brings transparency and avoids an appearance of impropriety in the appropriation to the public official’s nonprofit.”

The proposed state contract disclosure rules mirror those passed in Texas last year.

The bill requires companies and consultants with state contracts to disclose the names of those who have at least a 25 percent stake in the deal. The names of lawyers, brokers and advisors also must be disclosed. The information would be reported to the Ethics Commission and be made available to the public.

“The intent is to bring transparency to those persons and businesses that are financially benefiting from state contracts,” Shott said.

The ethics reform bill next moves to the West Virginia Senate.

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