A week after the General Assembly pushed through an “ethics reform” bill with last minute changes, the reviews are in and they’re not pretty:
“They fall far short.”
“So anemic you almost wonder why they bothered.”
“Little more a joke.”
In comparison, reviews of “new” Star Wars are a love fest. Lawmakers should be thankful they refused to pass redistricting reform, or might actually have to worry about their constituents holding them accountable for failing yet again to advance serious ethics fixes.
News and Advance: Amend or Veto the Ethics Reform Bill
What is it about ethics reform that members of the General Assembly don’t get?
Honestly, we’re left shaking our heads after the details emerged over the weekend about the compromise ethics reform package the Assembly passed.
Going into the final days of the Assembly, it looked as though an acceptable, though watered-down, bill would pass. A $100 cap on all gifts, the erasure of the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts, a more detailed annual disclosure form, a high-profile (though relatively toothless) ethics commission.
But in one extremely important way, legislators utterly gutted the bill.
Virginian Pilot: Ethics as usual in the General Assembly
Delegates and senators waited until the final hours of their final day to hash out a compromise that reconciled differences in the versions each chamber had approved. The compromise, a 49-page substitute, hit the floor for a vote with hardly any time for deliberative discussion, apparently a consequence of House Republicans’ insistence on leaving early.
The changes, unsurprisingly, appear pretty much on par with what Virginians have come to expect from lawmakers, a majority of whom have shown how reluctant they are to give up control of their own privileged status. Changes won’t take effect until next year.
The bill affirms lawmakers’ current responsibility to report any gift worth more than $50, and it bans them from accepting anything worth more than $100. Of course, they still can accept a series of $99 gifts, so long as they report them. They still can enjoy food and drink under a “widely attended event” exemption. And they still can accept trips funded by special interests, so long as the jaunt is related to state business and approved by an advisory council, which, coincidentally, has no authority to investigate allegations of misconduct or issue subpoenas.
Richmond Times Dispatch: Ethics reform: Small steps
Measured from where Virginia stood a couple of years ago, the ethics reforms passed by the General Assembly — the second in a row — qualify as another modest step forward. Measured from the ideal, they fall far short.
Last year lawmakers approved a $250 cap on gifts from lobbyists — a limit that did not apply to the “intangible” gifts so many legislators receive, such as tickets to big-time sporting events. They also approved an ethics advisory board with all the power and reach of a middle school student council.
Washington Post: Virginia’s toothless ethics reform
AFTER MUCH huffing and puffing, and more than a little whining and blaming the media, Virginia lawmakers passed a state ethics bill last month so anemic you almost wonder why they bothered. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) can, and should, offer amendments to give it some muscle.
True, legislative luminaries such as Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) will be deprived of hunting trips to Canada and Maine, worth tens of thousands of dollars, courtesy of friendly, favor-seeking lobbyists. That change, thanks to legislative language capping the value of “intangible gifts” to lawmakers at $100 a pop, counts as a step forward in Richmond’s disgracefully lax culture of entitlement.
News Leader: Ethics reform still incomplete
And all those corruption charges that the McDonnells were convicted of in federal court? A governor accepting loans and gifts from people doing business with the state? They’re still legal in ethically challenged Virginia.
The “landmark” legislation is in fact lame.
We’d barely call it a good start.
The only remarkable thing about it is that after watching the former governor and his wife take their perp walks, legislators scarcely cracked the entitlement culture that gave rise to this embarrassment.
Disappointing, but not surprising. That’s a prevailing sentiment after the General Assembly passed ethics “reform” that promises to reduce potential abuse – but in fact has enough loopholes to undermine real change.
You might think lawmakers would’ve tried harder to alter a permissive culture that’s led to the federal convictions of several elected officials in recent years, including former Gov. Bob McDonnell. With this latest subpar effort, however, you wonder if state officials have learned anything.
The package legislators approved came in the fading hours of the session last week. The slapdash nature of the compromise from House and Senate negotiators meant senators had no more than a half hour to review the 49-page bill.
Associated Press: Critics: Virginia ethics bill won’t prevent another scandal
Critics of new ethics legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly say it fails to solve the problem that spurred lawmakers to act in the first place: preventing a scandal like the one that engulfed former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Lawmakers passed an ethics bill in the final minutes of the 2015 legislative assembly, which ended last week. Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he’s still reviewing the bill and hasn’t said whether he will sign it, veto it or offer amendments for lawmakers to consider later during a veto session.
Lawmakers ended Virginia’s General Assembly session with a last-minute compromise on ethics reform, but already the effort is being criticized as full of loopholes.
Liberal advocacy group Progress VA says the legislation that emerged in the final hours of the General Assembly session would allow the vast majority of gifts that lawmakers accepted in 2014, including about 80 percent of the gifts from lobbyists.
“I think it’s incredibly disappointing that from our point of view the General Assembly is yet again trying to pass off a half-hearted effort as comprehensive ethics reform,” says Anna Scholl, the group’s executive director.
The group also concludes that the bill would allow unlimited gifts of travel to conferences held by the controversial conservative group the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which allows corporations to present model legislation to lawmakers in secret.
Groups, including ProgressVA have pored over the legislation and say they see problems in it.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that, from our point of view, the General Assembly is yet again trying to pass off a half-hearted effort as comprehensive ethics reform,” said ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl.
One of the biggest changes made was on the gift cap for state lawmakers, which was lowered from $250 to $100. However, now that only applies to a single gift. Under previous rules, lawmakers could receive a total of $250 in gifts for the entire year. The new rules allow them to receive many gifts of $100 or less.
“That gift cap is no longer applied in the aggregate, meaning [Dominion Virginia Power] could provide a legislator with a $99 gift every day for a year without breaking the law,” Scholl explained.
Capitol News Service: ProgressVA Sees Loopholes in Ethics Bills
ProgressVA, an advocacy group for “progressive public policy,” on Tuesday blasted the ethics legislation sitting on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s desk, saying it would continue to allow public officials to accept freebies.
The organization released a report saying the ethics legislation passed last week by the General Assembly “contains loopholes that impact its ability to curtail gifts.” ProgressVA applauded some aspects of the legislation but said the overall product was lacking.
“This bill is really one step forward and two steps back,” said Anna Scholl, the organization’s executive director.
Virginian Pilot: Critics decry perceived loopholes in ethics bill
One of the signature pieces of legislation from the General Assembly – an ethics bill approved in the final minutes of the annual session – leaves significant loopholes, according to two groups calling for stricter limits on gifts to lawmakers.
“This is the second year in a row where legislators have talked a big game about ethics reform… and what we’ve ended up with is a bill full of loopholes and exemptions,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA. She called it “one step forward and two steps back.”
McAuliffe called the assembly’s new ethics bills “a meaningful step,” but didn’t commit to signing it or say what changes he might suggest. In a press call later Tuesday, ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl said her group would like to see the governor suggest significant changes.
She said the bill amounts to “one step forward, two steps back” on ethics. Some changes require more disclosure and oversight, some less, she said.
“I think this is the second year in a row where legislators have talked a big game,” Scholl said, “and what we’ve ended up with is a bill that’s full of loopholes and exemptions.”
McAuliffe said he has to review the bill, which changed during the last day of the session Friday and was the last bill this assembly passed. He said his policy team starting going over some of the 762 bills passed this session on Tuesday morning.