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Legislators and lobbyists get ethics homework done on time

by Eric S. Peterson
Posted // 2012-01-23 -

Last year, a third of Utah’s state senators finished their required ethics exercises late, while 155 lobbyists active in 2010 didn’t complete the exercises at all. But with modifications to the law in the 2011 session, all of Utah’s legislators and lobbyists have finished the quizzes, with only a handful of late completions.

The ethics exercises resulted as part of a package of reform bills passed in the 2009 Legislature, following the alleged bribery scandal that drew public scrutiny to the usually uneventful 2008 treasurer’s race. The training involves three exams that ask questions about legislative ethics, conflicts of interest and questions about what kind of donations are appropriate to accept and when. The quizzes don’t keep score of how participants perform, and users only advance in the quizzes when they click on the right answer.

Legislators face no punishment for failure to complete the exercises but are expected to complete them once a year. For 2011, only Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, were late in finishing their exams. The tardy legislators both completed the exercises on Jan. 4, 2012, instead of during 2011.

The system has also better-helped the Utah Elections Office in regulating the state’s lobbyists. Going into the 2012 session, 464 lobbyists have completed the exams and a few more that are still applying are expected to finish the exams before they can practice, says state elections director Mark Thomas. A bill passed in the 2011 session allowed for up to a $1,000 fine for noncompliant lobbyists. But that fine is only for lobbyists who knowingly and willfully don’t complete the exercises.

Thomas says that gives the office the opportunity to fine noncompliant lobbyists $50 a day for every day they fail to complete the exercises. But that wasn’t necessary, as lobbyists have been completing the exams as part of the application process. While the law is keeping legislators and lobbyists on time with their pre-session homework, Thomas says the office may tweak the rules more so that lobbyists will know up front that the exams are prerequisites to even completing an application. "That way we can say, 'We’re not completing your application until you’ve taken the test,'" Thomas says.

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