CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates this week overwhelmingly passed a package of bills to reform the state Ethics Act and improve government practices.
“The citizens of West Virginia deserve to have confidence that government officials are working for the people and not themselves,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “The House of Delegates is committed to ensuring honest, fair and transparent governmental practices. I believe these bills will help ensure the people’s government works in a more ethical manner.”
The five bills were a product of an ethics reform working group, which used testimony gathered by the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary to craft the legislation.
“Our members and attorneys have worked hard over the last few months to draft this package of bills that we believe will improve government processes across the state,” said Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer. “The people want and deserve a government that is accountable to them and operates free of conflicts of interest, and I believe this legislation will help to guarantee that.”
On Monday, the House approved three of these ethics reform bills:
House Bill 4604, Relating to violations of the Ethics Act, passed the House on a 99-0 vote.
“This bill will improve the way the Ethics Commission is able to identify and prosecute ethics violations,” said lead sponsor Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “Extending the statute of limitations beyond two years is important because many agencies are only audited once every three years, and it is these audits that often spot potential abuses. This bill will ensure those transgressions can be prosecuted and also make sure the Ethics Commission is not held to an unreasonable burden of proof when handling these cases.”
House Bill 4605, prohibiting contracting with a state agency unless business entity submits disclosure of interested parties, also passed on a 99-0 vote.
“Citizens want and deserve to know who is benefiting financially from government contracts,” said lead sponsor Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette. “This bill provides the transparency needed to let taxpayers know who is benefiting from public spending.”
House Bill 4618, Relating to limitations on use of a public official's name or likeness, passed on a 94-0 vote.
"After a decade of introducing similar legislation, I was pleased last year when the Republican leadership advanced the ‘Trinkets Bill’ (House Bill 2457) and the House voted unanimously to end this shameless self-promotion at taxpayer expense,” said lead sponsor Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell. “I am equally pleased with the passage of House Bill 4618 this year. This bipartisan bill strengthens last year’s law even further by incorporating both the Ethics Commission’s recent advisory opinions and the actions of the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee. The Legislature must continue to respect the taxpayers and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars."
On Tuesday, the House also voted to approve two other bills:
“Citizens have a right to know who is giving money to lawmakers during the legislative session, when important decisions on key matters are being made,” said Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, the lead sponsor of this bill. “This bill will provide much-needed transparency regarding fundraising activities during our legislative sessions.”
House Bill 4606, Relating to the recusal of certain public officials from voting for appropriation of moneys to nonprofit entities, passed on a 96-2 vote.
“This bill closes a loophole that allowed public officials to vote on appropriations to nonprofits they worked with so long as they were not a ‘compensated’ employee,” said Delegate Upson, who was also lead sponsor of this legislation. “This bill will require mayors, council members or other lawmakers to recuse themselves from voting on funds that could benefit a nonprofit organization with which they are actively involved.”
House leadership plans to pass additional reform legislation in the coming week.