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Redistricting process is left off Clark’s reform list

SHARE Redistricting process is left off Clark’s reform list

With newly elected Utah House GOP leaders' endorsement of ethics reforms this week, it is clear that the 2009 Legislature will at least discuss some major changes in how the state Legislature goes about its business.

However, speaker-elect Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, didn't include on his ethics to-do list one item that GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and a number of legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, would like to see at least debated: giving the redrawing of state House and Senate districts, congressional seats and state school board boundaries to an outside commission.

In addition, Clark says that it may take longer than the 45-day general session for legislators to agree on an improved legislative ethics complaint process. But in any case, such ethical investigations and disciplinary decisions of a legislator's questionable actions must remain within the House and Senate themselves, not handed to any outside "independent" ethics commission as some suggest.

Clark says that how the Legislature, a separate branch of government, is run is up to lawmakers, just as the Utah Supreme Court is the ultimate overseer of the judicial branch of government.

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said Wednesday that Huntsman plans to go forward with his ethics panel, which will look at the best ways to "give Utahns trust in their government." His effort is not aimed at any single branch of government, like the Legislature, but an overall examination in openness and good government.

"He looks forward to working with legislators and is committed to ethics reform," she said.

But reform advocates like minority-leader-elect Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, and Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, say inherent conflict of interest by legislators — especially in the recent ethics investigation hearings — show that legislators just can't properly handle some internal affairs, and that an outside group's examination is needed.

Still, while there may be some ethics reforms that won't be considered seriously come January, Clark's list does include a number of items that Huntsman and legislative reformists want.

Clark's suggestions include:

• Banning gifts to legislators from lobbyists. Small gifts, like $5 or $10 in value, would still be allowed. If the whole Legislature were invited to an event, like a dinner or sporting event, then that would be allowed. And if a legislator were invited to a dinner to give a speech, that dinner could be accepted. Together, the 104 legislators accepted more than $200,000 worth of lobbyist gifts last year.

• Eliminate personal use of campaign funds for retired legislators.

• One-year prohibition before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist.

• Caps on donations to candidates, political parties and PACs.

• Improve internal ethics investigations of legislators.

Jones, who stood on the Capitol steps before the Nov. 4 election giving the Democrats' ethics reform suggestions, said Wednesday that Clark's ideas "are a very good start — but more needs to be done for the benefit of concerned Utahns." She added that "it is refreshing that the majority (Republicans) are finally talking about ethics."

However, Jones said that it makes no sense for legislators to still "judge the conduct of their colleagues, through the ethics process, or that we redraw our own district boundaries."

Jones said she hopes that Huntsman goes ahead with his bipartisan ethics panel to make recommendations before the 2009 Legislature. "He has done a good job with ethics in the executive branch; I welcome his lead on this."

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com