ProgressVA released the following statement from executive director Anna Scholl in response to passage by the General Assembly of the final conference report for HB2070 and SB1424.
“Virginians should have no doubt that our elected officials are working on our behalf. Recent events, including the high profile felony conviction of former Governor Bob McDonnell, undermine public integrity. Whether or not members of the General Assembly broke our trust, by virtue of their position they do bear responsibility for earning it back. The ethics reform legislation the General Assembly passed today is a step forward and it includes important reforms, such at a $100 gift cap, but it still falls far short of the mark. Notably, legislators refused to establish an independent and impartial ethics commission with the power to randomly audit ethics filings, investigate signed complaints, and refer findings for prosecution.
“The approved bill also carves out a loophole for privately-sponsored travel for legislators and elected officials to private conferences such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ProgressVA has long expressed concern that Virginia lawmakers meet with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors at ALEC conferences with little disclosure. Under the new ethics bills, lobbyists would now be allowed to pay for that travel with no disclosure since the travel will not qualify as a gift. Several high profile and controversial bills in the 2015 General Assembly session bear ALEC fingerprints, including HB2238 which would have siphoned money away from public schools to private and parochial academies as well as HB1608 and HB2395 which would eliminate localities’ ability to ensure local contractors are paid a living wage.
The 98-page conference report contains multiple changes from the original bills introduced in the House and Senate and we expect additional problems may come to light as legislators and advocates have time to actually read the bill.”