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Lawmakers and lobbyists completed mandatory ethics exercises at the last minute—if at all.

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When a classroom assignment only requires a short reading and open-book quiz to receive credit, there are only a couple ways to screw that up—turn it in late or not at all. Luckily, lawmakers who procrastinated completing the three short ethics exercises they were legislatively mandated to complete in 2010 didn’t need to worry about their final grades, since they won’t face any sanctions for noncompliance.

Although all state lawmakers completed the exercises, more than one-third of Utah’s senators completed them late, and 155 lobbyists—one-third of Utah’s lobbyists active in 2010—did not complete the training exercises at all. Though lobbyists could face an ethics-commission complaint, no one in state government currently tracks lobbyists who don’t complete the exercises.

The training was part of a package of reforms to emerge from the 2009 session in the wake of a bribery scandal that forced the resignation of former State Rep. Mark Walker. The Legislature created a training program that lobbyists and legislators—as well as the public—can complete online. The exercises were not graded and simply needed to be complete by Dec. 31, 2010. They were divided into sections covering general ethics, campaign-finance filings and lobbyist regulations. Those participating in the quiz can proceed to the next question only after clicking on the correct answer.

The House claims the member with the latest completion—with Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab completing all three exercises Jan. 4, 2011—but the Senate holds the highest number of tardy completions, with 11 members of the Senate’s 27 eligible members completing the exercise on Jan. 1, 2011.

“The concern always with these laws is whether they’re put forward more as a placebo than a solution,” says Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

According to the 2009 rule, only lobbyists can face consequences for not completing the exercises.

Lobbyists who didn’t take the quizzes include Lee Peacock of the Utah Petroleum Association, American Civil Liberties Union of Utah executive director Karen McCreary and legal director Darcy Goddard, and politicos such as Salt Lake County Council member Randy Horiuchi; Salt Lake City Council member and Utah AIDS Foundation director Stan Penfold; and former Utah Republican Party Chair Dave Hansen.

The list of noncompliant lobbyists also includes some notable ex-lawmakers, including former Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, as well as Walker, the former Sandy Republican who resigned in 2008 before his own ethics hearing could begin for involvement in a possible bribery scandal in the 2008 state treasurer’s race.

Dale Zabriskie, a Salt Lake City attorney and lobbyist for the Museum of Utah Art and History, recalls doing the exercises in 2009, but says he didn’t know it was required again in 2010 and has completed the exercises since speaking with City Weekly.

“It seemed like a make-work kind of thing to do,” Zabriskie says. “It didn’t impress me.”

Lavarr Webb, partner and co-founder of the Exoro Group, which has done public relations for clients such as Zions Bank and Intermountain Healthcare, was surprised to discover he had not completed the training for 2010, but says that his office had reviewed the materials in 2009.

“I don’t know what difference it will make,” Webb says of the training. “But it’s probably worthwhile as a refresher.”

These lobbyists probably won’t need to worry, since under the 2009 rule, the ethics training is maintained and administered by the office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, even though it’s the Elections Office that regulates the state’s lobbyists.

“It should have been housed in our office in the first place,” says Mark Thomas, state elections director. “Then we can monitor it, and when someone comes in to register [as a lobbyist] we could say ‘look, you need to complete these exercises before you can register.’ ” Thomas is hopeful such a fix might come out of the current legislative session.

For Jowers, tardy completions by lawmakers is understandable considering the requirement is new and because Utah does not use a full-time Legislature. As for lobbyists, Jowers says, “they are professionals, so you would hope they would be professional enough to keep up on the very, very minimal requirements on them.” 

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