Utah voters are fortunate. The Utah Constitution gives voters and the Legislature equal rights to initiate and pass state laws. This year it’s time for voters to use that right or lose it by signing two initiative petitions that put independent citizen commissions on the ballot. One commission helps legislators maintain good ethical practices.
The other helps legislators create compact election districts, keeping communities intact without protecting incumbents from fair competition.
The Legislature already has its own independent ethics commission proposal on the November ballot. It’s a constitutional amendment. Only the Legislature can propose constitutional amendments, so if it passes voters cannot initiate future changes.
This makes adding the citizen ethics initiative to the ballot especially important.
Many legislators are genuinely convinced they know best and are determined to protect their power. They have made getting initiatives on the ballot increasingly difficult for voters by requiring more signatures from more areas and unfairly giving opponents extra time to remove signatures before the final count.
We can overcome these roadblocks, but only if enough of us act by signing the ethics and fair boundaries petitions before April 15.
Sandy Peck Executive director, League of Women Voters of Utah
The 2010 Utah Legislature took only baby steps toward real ethics reform. Requiring disclosure of more potential financial conflicts and prohibiting personal use of campaign money were more than offset by narrow, self-interested actions to protect the status quo.
For example, legislators can still give their campaign money to other legislators or legislative candidates to buy influence, and there are no limits on campaign contributions.
Lobbyists can still be legislators. Legislators can still become paid lobbyists for many organizations when they leave the Legislature. Lobbyists are now required to report gifts worth $10 or more, but the exceptions are big enough to drive a truck through.
The Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission is a clever attempt to prevent voters from ever passing an initiative on what kinds of ethical standards we expect from our Legislature.
The new procedures for a supposedly “independent” ethics commission ensure that complaints will seldom be filed, that commission hearings will be secret, that recommendations cannot reveal evidence, and that a supermajority must agree on the existence of misconduct.
The public cannot afford to sleep!
Dixie S. Huefner
Salt Lake City
Senate Bill 275, sponsored by a lobbyist/legislator who calls those of us gathering petition signatures for the ethics reform initiative “hucksters,” changes the rules of initiative petitions in the middle of the game. It is an unethical sabotaging of the democratic process. The Legislature has now changed the rules of the petition process to allow legislators to score points after the game is over.
Gov. Gary Herbert is now the referee. The public is waiting to see if Herbert sides with the team that quits at the final buzzer or the team that insists on scoring points after the game is over, when there is no opposition on the floor. Whose side are you on, governor? Are you with the public or the legislators?
I was just a “nutcake,” now I’m also a “huckster.”
Regarding the bill now on the governor’s desk that stops adding signatures to the ethics reform initiative on one date but allows its opponents an additional 30 days to talk signers of the initiative into removing their names:
It’s late in the game. One team (ethics reformers) could win. That possibility prompts the other side (lawmakers) to huddle with the referees (also lawmakers). They change the rules, deciding to extend the game. However, the new rules prevent the team that’s poised to win from obtaining possession of the ball during the extended period. Only the losing team can score more points. If this happened anywhere in the sports world, we’d be outraged at the corruption. It would be front page news.
Are we so cynical that we just shrug and accept it as the way our democracy works when Senate Bill 275, “Removing Signature from Initiative and Referendum Petition,” breezes through the Utah Legislature?
Salt Lake City
Sen. Howard Stephenson called those of us gathering signatures on the ethics petitions “hucksters.” Other Republicans legislators use words like “subterfuge” and “deceit” to describe the ordinary voters who are out in the cold on their own time trying to make a difference in our state.
What will we gain personally by doing this?
What does Sen. Stephenson have to gain by preventing this initiative from going to the polls in November?
Either his senate seat or his job. He is both a senator and a paid lobbyist.
SB275 (sponsored by Stephenson) is another example of the Republican hierarchy assuming that average voters are uneducated, misguided or stupid enough to sign something they don’t understand. Anyone who wants to read this petition can do so before signing. Getting this issue on the ballot will not make this law. It will give voters months to debate its virtues or flaws. That public debate is what legislators want to avoid.
In his effort to derail the ethics reform and fair boundaries petitions, Sen. Howard Stephenson seeks to add to the already unfair requirements of the petition process (Feb. 19).
There are actually two timelines in his bill. One potentially extends the time allowed for signers to request removal of their names from citizens’ initiatives after the deadline for submission of signatures to the county clerks. The other establishes that the bill would take effect immediately, without the normal 60-day waiting period, if the legislation passes by a two-thirds majority and is signed by the governor.
The former is suspicious, the latter clearly partisan. Both give initiative opponents increased opportunity to browbeat signers into removing their names. This is like going into overtime at the end of a game with only one side allowed to play. These timeline shifts have no bearing on the ability of the clerks to perform their duties. Sen. Stephenson is scapegoating in the name of fairness. Why are the ethics reform and fair boundaries initiatives so threatening to so many legislators?
L. Jackson Newell
Salt Lake City
Some legislators and the conservative Sutherland Institute believe that legislative ethics reform in Utah is “dangerous” (“Ethics initiative battle heats up,” Tribune Feb. 8). Proponents for reform, including Utahns for Ethical Government, argue that it’s necessary because:
1. The people’s business should be conducted by legislators acting as our trustees, with fidelity, integrity and selfless judgment.
2. Special interests regularly inject unlimited money into Utah’s political system on matters for which they will benefit. Common sense tells us such donations are to influence legislative action rather than to create better government.
3. Utah’s financial disclosure laws are ranked among the worst in the nation, with 81 percent of donated campaign money coming from special interest groups — $2.45 million in 2008 alone.
4. Past bills to strengthen ethical conduct have been smothered by affected legislators or special interests.
5. Power can corrupt, and unchecked power combined with unlimited monies creates circumstances where the public interest becomes blurred by self-interest, favoritism and a sense of entitlement.
So the bottom-line question to ponder is: For whom and why would standards for ethical and fiduciary conduct in the Legislature be “dangerous”?
I am surprised that in a recent letter to the editor, a Pleasant Grove legislator asked why former Utah County legislators had not dealt with ethics reform. Apparently this legislator did not read newspapers during the decade of the 1990s when for nine of the 10 years I served in the Utah House I sponsored, and worked endlessly, to pass ethics bills.
One, limiting gifts to legislators, finally passed. However, bills requiring campaign finance reform, fuller lobbyist gift disclosure and a bill to prevent a legislator from becoming a paid lobbyist for at least one year failed.
In order to get the initiative petition on the November 2010 ballot, it needs to be signed by all concerned citizens who want to curtail such gift giving and influence peddling by special interest groups on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Go to http://www.utahethics.org to find out where you can sign this petition.
As a concerned citizen of this state, I am discouraged at the resistance our legislative leadership is giving to the ethics initiative being proposed by Utahns for Ethical Government. A problem does exist, and leadership would like to sweep it under the rug. Are lobbyists important to a democracy? The answer is yes. Lobbying itself is not the problem. It is when paid lobbyists can buy access and influence that the playing field for the private citizen becomes very uneven.
The Utah State Legislature has shown little effort in banning gifts and limiting campaign contributions. It’s time for the people to speak.
Mark R. Marsh
We will more likely see a fat man pass through the eye of a needle than we will witness meaningful ethical reform in the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature.
Jonathan C. Seegmiller
Salt Lake City
The Utahns for Ethical Government initiative does not provide some new way to remove people from office. The established ways remain: Voters do not re-elect them or the Legislature itself expels a member. Ethical misconduct, of course, could become a catalyst for not voting for someone, but nothing in the UEG initiative results in getting “certain people out of office” as long as they comply with the ethical standards in the initiative. We wonder what these legislators are so afraid of.
Some legislators act as if the initiative would operate retroactively, but that only shows that they do not know their own laws. The Utah Code (UCA 68-3-3) prohibits any legislation from being retroactive unless it specifically so states, which the UEG initiative does not. No alleged misconduct that predates passage of the initiative at the 2010 election would be subject to UEG standards.
Legislators, heed your own advice: Read the initiative, but know your own laws when you do so.
Dixie Snow Huefner
Salt Lake City
The Nov. 28 Spectrum (“Officials resist ethics proposal”) quotes Southern Utah legislators Urquhart, Stowell, Ipson and Noel as believing that the ballot initiative sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government will make it “nearly impossible for business owners to serve in the Legislature.”
That is a great exaggeration. All that is prohibited is that, after 2013, if a sitting legislator is appointed as a “control person” (typically a member of a board of directors or officer) (1) primarily because of the legislator’s status as a legislator and (2) is compensated for that service, then accepting the appointment would be an ethical violation. If one is already a business owner, officer, member of the board before becoming a legislator, the prohibition does not apply.
Why the prohibition? It is to prevent corporations, unions, non-profit associations from appointing legislators to paid positions in their organizations with the intent to gain special access to the legislator and promote legislation in which the organization is particularly interested.
If the organization does not pay the legislator for the service, or if it wants to lobby legislators in general, those are acceptable routes that may be pursued.
Legislators should stop misrepresenting the UEG initiative to the public.
A petition for ethics reform in the Utah Legislature is being circulated throughout the state. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel, a nonpartisan group of 14 concerned senior citizens, urges all registered voters to sign the petition.
Because ethics reform has failed to make significant progress in the Legislature, more than 20 former legislators and many other community leaders created Utahns for Ethical Government to develop an initiative that will enable voters at the 2010 general election to establish limits on the amounts that individuals and corporations can give to legislative candidates, prohibit retiring lawmakers from becoming paid lobbyists for two years, and ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators except for light refreshments.
Utah is one of only 10 states lacking an independent ethics commission. The Utah Constitution provides that citizens may legislate through the initiative process, and we believe that when the Legislature fails to act, citizens must assert their right to act to correct bad behavior. The Utah Citizens’ Counsel (Robert Archeleta, Genevieve Atwood, Aileen Clyde, Gale Dick, Irene Fisher, David Irvine, Boyer Jarvis, Chase Peterson, Grethe Peterson, Bonner Ritchie, Karl Snow, Emma Lou Thayne, Raymond Uno and Olene Walker) strongly supports the petition drive.
Salt Lake City
The establishment of an independent ethics commission for Utah’s Legislature has been unsuccessfully brought before the Legislature many times; now it appears our legislators wish to comply, but using their rules. Perhaps the fact that citizens have been circulating petitions to force the issue on the ballot in 2010 has persuaded them that we mean business.
Unfortunately, the issue of who will sit on the commission is still in disagreement. Utahns for Ethical Government proposes that citizens oversee the process and legislators want judges (or, better put, their old cronies) to preside. Since citizen juries daily decide whether someone is guilty, they can handle complaints against office holders accused of unethical behavior, particularly since the commission would only recommend sanctions to the legislative body, which would mete out any justice if circumstances show it is needed.
The second part of the proposed legislative ethics reform is to cap political contributions so that a large company’s big donation won’t sway a legislator.
Visit http://www.utahnsforethicalgovernment.org and see if you would like Utah to have an ethics commission similar to what 40 other states have. Then sign the petition to put the proposal on the ballot.
Salt Lake City