Home Virginia Politics Virginia Senate Passes Useless “Ethics Reform” Bill

Virginia Senate Passes Useless “Ethics Reform” Bill

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From Progress Virginia…what a pathetic farce. I hate to be cynical, but is exactly what I predicted would happen. Ugh.

Richmond, VA – The Virginia Senate this afternoon passed SB649 39-1, the omnibus "ethics reform" legislation that doesn't include any real reform. Prior to passage, the members rejected an amendment from Senator Adam Ebbin to reign in expensive recreational trips with no educational value paid for by special interests. The bill maintains an absurd distinction between tangible and intangible gifts while only prohibiting "tangible" gifts over $250 from registered lobbyists.

"The members of the Senate should be embarrassed that after the last year's ethics scandals, the best they can do is absolutely nothing," said ProgressVA executive director Anna Scholl. "Not only can legislators continue to accept unlimited gifts from almost any source, but they continue to solicit those gifts. Private citizens aren't routinely offered free trips to France or Sea World or Redskins games and that shouldn't be a perk of public office either."

In a report last month, ProgressVA Education Fund evaluated all 2012 gifts under the "restrictions" in the omnibus bill and found virtually no gifts would be prohibited under this proposal. Only gifts from registered lobbyists are prohibited under this proposal, even though no lobbyists provided gifts in 2012. Under the proposal, none of the gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams to Governor Bob McDonnell would be banned.  

  • …from Del. Alfonso Lopez:

    Improvements to Virginia’s Renewable Energy GoalsPassed by the House of Delegates

    RICHMOND – This morning, the Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 822 – a bill sponsored by Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) that incentivizes the creation of new renewable energy in Virginia.

    Under existing law power companies can purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) and hold onto them indefinitely – a practice known as banking.  This means that the utilities can stockpile old RECs from past years and use those RECs for future compliance to meet their renewable energy goal.  This bill will limit banking of renewable energy credits to five years so that utility companies will have to purchase new renewable energy credits or generate new renewable energy in order to meet their goal.

    “This legislation helps Virginia to invest in more clean, sustainable renewable energy in order to grow our economy and secure our long-term energy future” said Lopez, a leader in Richmond on policy that creates sustainable, renewable energy and that protects the environment for future generations. “Working with environmental advocates, the renewable energy industry, and utility companies over the past year, we were able to hammer out a compromise that will move us closer to more green jobs through the Commonwealth and protect our environment for future generations.”

    The bill now heads to the Virginia State Senate for final approval before being sent to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature.

  • VIRGINIA SENATE PASSES ETHICS REFORM OMNIBUS

    SB 649 passes with overwhelming bipartisan support

    RICHMOND, VA – On the Senate floor this afternoon, Democrats and Republicans joined together to pass SB 649, the omnibus ethics reforms package. On the Senate floor, Democratic Senators argued that the measured represented an imperfect but necessary first step towards regaining the public’s trust. The bill passed 39-1 with Senator John Watkins (R-Powhatan) dissenting.

    Among other reforms, the bill would create an ethics advisory council, increase the frequency of disclosure filings, cap the acceptable value of single gifts from lobbyists to legislators, and reduce the disclosure thresholds for various economic interests from $10,000 to $5,000.

    As introduced, SB 649 has been the subject of editorial criticism for not doing enough to create meaningful reforms. Democratic senators introduced several amendments designed to strengthen the package and address those concerns.

    Senator Adam Ebbin (D – Alexandria) attached amendments that would require that the new ethics advisory council be made up of former, rather than current, legislators. Sen. Ebbin also offered several other amendments that failed to pass.

    Senator A. Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) offered amendments to deny legislators reimbursement for the cost of attending conferences and meetings unless the agendas and materials from those meetings are made public. The amendments garnered bipartisan support, passing by voice vote.

    Senator Chap Petersen (D – Fairfax) offered amendments to clarify the definition of “personal friend” for the purposes of disclosure exemptions. The amendments were adopted on a 21-20 vote, with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam breaking the tie.

    Senator McEachin said, “I do not feel that this bill accomplishes everything that it could or should. I’m gratified that the Senate accepted my amendment, but I believe there is still much more to do. Recent events have profoundly shaken the public’s faith in our government, and we have to do something to regain their trust. A first step is better than no step at all, and I appreciate the bipartisan efforts involved here. I’m hopeful that we can continue to work on ethics reform and not see this as any kind of final project.”

    Senator Petersen said, “”Even with all the work done over the past few months, we still needed to get basic items correct such as the definition of ‘personal friend’ in the legislation.”

    Senator Ebbin said, “This solution falls short, especially for a major bill that’s been discussed for months. I tried to tighten this bill today, and I think there are things we’ll have to change in the future. But one of our goals today is to rebuild and expand public confidence in our government. There is absolutely no reason for members of the General Assembly to accept free trips on corporate jets to sporting events or safaris. This bill has a lot of room for improvement, but it is a start.”

    Democratic co-patrons of the measure were Senator Kenneth Alexander, Senator Adam Ebbin, Senator John Edwards, Senator Barbara Favola, Senator Chap Petersen, Senator George Barker, Senator Mamie Locke, Senator David Marsden and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw.

  • Ethics Reform Staggers Forward

    Today, the Senate passed out its omnibus ethics bill, SB 649, on a 39-1 vote. Despite the widespread voting endorsement, there is little enthusiasm for the legislation – which is both too strict and too lenient at the same time.

    Too Strict: The bill requires that lawmakers disclose every gift over $50 received by a family member from someone who “transacts business” with the state, state agency or locality. I actually filed an amendment to better clarify this test and the knowledge required. Regardless, it is very broad standard, especially for someone with a wife and four kids. Effectively, I have to question my own family every December to find out if one of them has received gifts over $50 – and, if so, from whom (and whether that person “transacts business” with any public entity in Virginia). That applies even if the donor’s gift has nothing to do with me or my position.

    Too Lenient: The reform totally failed to limit gifts, except those tangible gifts over $250 (and who the heck is getting these anyway?) We failed to limit intangible gifts, like free meals, entertainment, or travel, which are at the heart of the “free stuff” culture. Critically, the Senate rejected amendments by Senator Ebbin which would have required “free trips” over $1,000 to be approved by the “independent” ethics commission that we’re forming. As it stands now, PAC’s and lobbyists can spring for expensive trips, even if they are unrelated to official business. That’s not right.

    (In voting against Ebbin’s amendment, one Senator noted that a large corporation had provided a private plane years ago so he could return for a colleague’s funeral. Of course, politicians aren’t the only ones stuck out of town when a friend dies. But apparently we’re the ones that deserve a free trip home).

    I voted “yes” for the bill, despite the flaws. Notably, my own ideas were collapsed into it, at least theoretically, which makes me a chief co-patron.

    This is the first step. There is a companion bill coming over from the House, and the final product will come out of a conference committee.

    All of these bills (obviously) are driven by the ethical failings of the last administration. But that horse is already out of the barn – and it’s not terribly clear how these changes would have stopped that scandal.

    I agree with one thing from Senator Saslaw. The problem is us, not the lobbyists. But do we even admit that there’s a problem?

  • DJRippert

    I’ve lived in Virginia forever.  Let’s be honest – there are large swaths of Virginia where the residents either don’t care about the state government or think it’s just fine to have 140 Boss Hoggs in the state legislature.  Meanwhile, the state legislature has no Earthly intention of doing what Virginians want.  In a recent poll, 80% of Virginians want term limits for state legislators.  Do you hear even a whisper about that in Richmond? ( http://www.hamptonu.edu/cpp/po

    Ballotopia consistently ranks Virginia among the least competitive states for state legislative elections.

    Isn’t it time that we de-evolved some of the governance power from Richmond to either regions or localities?  If Northern Virginians voted as a region how would gun regulation, right to choice, social safety nets, etc look in that region?  If Medicaid expansion was on the ballot in Northern Virginia, would it pass?

    Fairfax County has tightened its rules for when a Supervisor must recuse himself or herself from a zoning decision.  If the Supervisor received $100 or more in the last 12 months from any party in the zoning matter the supervisor must recise themselves.  Meanwhile, practicing attorneys who are members of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond vote to elect the very judges in front of whom they will try cases.  In addition, if every politician who took $100 or more from Dominion in the last 12 months had to recuse themselves from Dominion-related legislation there would be nobody available to vote.

    Our state legislature is hopelessly incompetent and hopelessly corrupt.  Yes, there are some good legislators but too few to make a difference.

    Isn’t it time we started pushing to govern ourselves in Northern Virginia?

    It’s time to end Virginia’s strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule and neuter the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.