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LEGISLATORS HOPE TO CLARIFY CONFLICT RULES

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Are Utah's 104 lawmakers all criminals?

No. But the current law defining legislative conflict of interest is so broad that "all of us have probably violated it," says Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful.The issue of what to do about conflicts of interest - tighten reporting requirements, loosen them, change state law or change internal legislative rules - has been debated during the past several years, and now a legislative committee is trying to do something about it.

Beattie and members of his Legislative Process Committee were a bit chagrined this past week after reviewing current law and the accompanying House and Senate rules on legislative conflicts of interest.

"Some of us have been around here quit awhile, and we should know this," Beattie said after he learned how inclusive the legislative rules are and how broad the conflict law is.

In short, most legislators don't understand the rules or the law. Some - but not all - lawmakers declare conflicts when they don't need to; some don't declare when they should. Some don't see much of a problem either way.

"I've been here all these years and not seen a problem" with legislative conflict of interest, said Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Layton. Barlow is retiring this year after 42 years in the Legislature. "Well . . . maybe there's some problems out there."

"Have you ever violated the conflict law, senator?" asked House committee co-chair Byron Har-ward, R-Provo.

"Not intentionally," said Barlow.

And that's the point - the law is so broad that no one, or everyone, may violate it.

The law, in the criminal code section, says: "Every member of the Legislature who has a personal or private interest in any measure or bill proposed or pending before the Legislature of which he is a member and does not disclose the fact to the house of which he is a member and votes thereon is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor." The law was passed in 1973 during the Watergate scandal.

Line up for prosecution, legislators. You might want to save some money and use your mug shot in your campaign brochure.

Upwards of 1,000 bills and resolutions are introduced each year, two or three times that many are "proposed" at one stage or another but never actually introduced, and each lawmaker is legally responsible for knowing what is in all those bills and declaring a conflict where appropriate.

"I violated the law last year," admitted Beattie, a real-estate broker. A massive appropriation act included fee increases on real-estate agents. That's Beattie's business, but he hadn't read the whole bill and didn't know he was voting to raise his own business fees. He didn't declare a conflict during the vote, although he did list real estate as a possible conflict in his written conflict of interest filing.

At Harward's suggestion, legislative attorneys will draft a bill that would substitute the more definable legislative rule for the

overly broad conflict statute. The rule says businesses with which the lawmaker is associated, including stock ownership of more than $10,000, must be listed by name, and lawmakers should declare any financial conflicts of interest. The "should" is important, committee members said, because someone may honestly forget to list a conflict and later be pilloried in the press for the oversight.

Currently, the Senate and House have different forms. Beattie, as a Senate leader, counseled senators to fill out their forms broadly. "I listed just three general areas" on the form, Beattie said. Senators did that so reporters and others couldn't catch senators making a conflict mistake. House members have more detailed disclosure, listing businesses by name. Harward advocates such detailed listings with the option of making a general conflict statement as well.

Bills requiring more conflict-of-interest disclosure have all failed in the past.