Ethics bill includes mandatory e-filing
Ethics legislation enacted by the General Assembly includes a requirement that starting next year lobbyists, candidates and state officials file disclosures electronically.
E-Filing will speed public disclosure of semi-annual conflict of interests and lobbyist disclosures.
HB2070 and SB1424 would require the Ethics Advisory Council to post the documents online. While e-filing coiuld make instant disclosure possible, the legislation could allow Council to delay public disclosure up to six weeks.
Before they adjourned, legislators also restored funding for the Ethics Council, which was set up last year to collect disclosures and to issue advisory guidance to candidates, lobbyists and state officials. Funding for the Ethics Council includes $393,000 in general fund money for the year starting July 1 and another estimated $150,000 in revenue from lobbyist registration fees.
The Council's funding will be boosted, in part, by an increase in the annual lobbyist registration fee to $100 from $50.
The measure now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who can sign, amend or veto the bill.
Even if McAuliffe signs the bill, it remains unclear when the Ethics Council will get up and running. The Council was authorized to begin in July 2014, but has not yet met in part because McAuliffe -- insisting the Council lacked independent authority -- refused to make his four appointments.
This year's legislation reduced the number of Council members to nine from 15, eliminating six slots for citizen members.
Here are the changes in the membership of the Ethics Council, effective January 1, 2016:
- Sitting Legislators: 4 (up from 2)
- Retired Judges: 3 (up from zero)
- Citizen Members: 0 (down from 6)
- Appointees recommended by the Virginia Association of Counties: 1 (no change)
- Appointees recommended by the Virginia Municipal League: 1 (no change)
- Executive Branch Employees: 0 (down from 2)
- Former Legislators: 0 (down from 2)
- Persons designed by the Attorney General: 0 (down from 1)
This year's legislation also eliminated a provision to have all local officials file ethics forms with the Council. starting later this year. The move dramatically scales back the volume of forms the Council's three-member staff would process.
The legislation also made the following changes in the powers granted to the Council:
- The Council "may" review all disclosures for completeness. (The law enacted last year said the Council "shall" review for completeness)
- The Council shall accept and review any statement from a legislator or official disputing a gift report filed by a lobbyist.
- The Council shall redact the home address, personal telephone number or signature contained on any form.
March 1, 2015