Proponent of ethics initiative argues for reform

If a current effort to obtain nearly 100,000 signatures reaches its goal, Utah citizens will vote next November on a proposed ethics reform law. The movement’s leader was in Logan Tuesday spreading the word.Kim Burningham, a 15-year member of the Utah House of Representatives, is Chair of Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG).”This initiative does two things,” said Burningham. “It establishes an independent commission to give oversight to ethics issues in the legislature. All but 10 other states already have such a commission. The second major part establishes a code of conduct for ethical behavior while serving in the legislature.” Burningham said that code of conduct deals with such issues as conflict of interest disclosure, serving as lobbyists, receiving campaign contributions and limits on those campaign contributions. He said state law requires that the initiative submitted by Utahns for Ethical Government be in its’ final form. “About mid-August we filed it with the Lieutenant Governor’s office and proceeded from there starting to get the signatures. The initiative we brought forward is in the form that will be placed on the ballot. We’re not allowed to make any changes in that process once it is introduced. Of course, it becomes a law after the public passes it and could have adjustments made to it after that time.” The deadline to gather around 100,000 signatures throughout the state is April 15, 2010 in order to get the issue on the November ballot. State law requires the signatures be obtained in all but three of the state senate districts. “We must get 10 percent in each of those areas of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election and that amounts to just slightly less than 100,000 signatures. Of course we have to get well beyond 100,000 signatures because when you turn them in they are carefully checked by county clerks and they may discover some of them were not registered voters or there may be some other disqualifier.” State Senator Lyle Hillyard of Logan and State Representative Jack Draxler of North Logan said recently the initiative goes too far because it requires lawmakers to release information about their clients, information which is subject to client confidentiality agreements. Burningham said that criticism is vastly exaggerated. “First of all, the bill does not do anything about client- attorney privilege. That privilege still exists. Any time a subpoena is offered, and it can be offered under the present system, that must then go through the judicial process. The judge could quash it if it’s inappropriate.” Two other groups, a committee appointed by the Governor and a panel of legislators, are also working on ethics reform. “I am personally grateful that there is this attention given to the ethics issue on so many fronts,” said Burningham. “It’s a good thing it is now before the public, before the legislature, and will demand solutions. “However, it’s important to note that the legislative ethics committee’s recommendation passed a week or so ago only deals with the commission element. They do nothing about the entire code of conduct issue, which are all those elements about campaign contributions, being a lobbyist and conflict of interest disclosure. All those things are not discussed.” Burningham said UEG’s initiative is a comprehensive approach that provides the commission and also a code of conduct that will be valuable.

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