Governor's Proposed Changes to Ethics Council
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has recommended a number of amendments to General Assembly-approved ethics legislation, including changes to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.
The General Assembly will consider the amendments when it reconvenes on April 15.
Last year, McAuliffe vetoed funding for the Ethics Council, saying the panel lacked the independence necessary to hold elected officials accountable.
Last month, the General Assembly passed a proposal that would give legislators greater control over the Council. The bills -- HB 2070 and SB 1424 -- removed six citizen members from the Ethics Council, doubled the number of legislative members and subjected the Council's top staff member to confirmation by a joint legislative committee.
McAuliffe's amendments filed last week did not address the Council's autonomy.
McAuliffe proposed changes that would get the Council up and running six months sooner than planned. McAuliffe's amendments would make changes to the Council effective July 1 (instead of January 1, 2016) and grant the initial appointees power to begin making decisions, even if they have not been confirmed the General Assembly.
Other Council-related amendments include:
- Requiring the Council to conduct a "semiannual inspection" that determines if lobbyists and legislators are complying with gifts limits, filing accurate disclosures and meeting deadlines.
- Allowing the Governor to appoint a current or former executive branch member to the Council (instead of a former judge)
- Eliminating language that directs the Division of Legislative Services to provide staff support to the Council. Instead, McAuliffe proposed that the Council employ its own executive director, who would be appointed by the Joint Committee on Rules.
- Providing the Council flexibility to "do all acts necessary and convenient" to carry out the purpose of the law.
McAuliffe also offered amendments affecting the limits and disclosure of free meals, entertainment and gifts a public officiial can accept. These include:
- Changing the proposed $100 cap on meals and gifts from lobbyists to include the aggregate amount of gifts received during a calendar year. The General Assembly-passed version would allow an unlimited number of gifts, as long as no single gift was valued at more than $100. McAuliffe would not count any gifts less than $20 against the $100 aggregate cap.
- Eliminating a provision that would have exempted General Assembly members from reporting free travel to legislative session meetings or to other meetings which a legislator must attend by virtue of serving in public office.
- Narrowing the proposed definition of a "widely attended event," which under the bill would be exempt from the $100 gift cap. The amendment struck language that said an event could qualify simply because it "is open to the public."
- Reinstated a provision that would require disclosure of gifts from people who are a party to state contracts, even if the person is a personal friend.
Recent VPAP Updates on this topic:
Assembly set to restore funding to Ethics Council
Mandatory E-filing added to House ethics bill
March 30, 2015