Senate should support ethics reform

Published 1:00 am Sunday, January 19, 2014

By Sen. Tommy Norment

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, whose district includes a portion of Suffolk, delivered this week’s Virginia GOP address. The transcript of his remarks follows:

Hello, I’m Senator Tommy Norment of James City County, and I serve as Majority Leader in the Senate of Virginia.

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Beginning with last year’s campaign, candidates and elected officials in both parties have been pledging to enact reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws. Now that this year’s General Assembly session is underway, three of the four party legislative caucuses have come together to support a comprehensive ethics reform package.

Today, I submitted that package in the Senate of Virginia and will serve as its sponsor on our side of the Capitol.

The plan creates a Virginia Ethics Commission comprised of citizens and elected officials. It enacts a ban on soliciting gifts from individuals or lobbyists with business before the state. It places a $250 cap on gifts.

The plan also standardizes Virginia’s financial disclosure system, to make it more transparent and accessible to citizens, and it requires mandatory ethics and disclosure training for all elected officials.

While these changes may seem simple and obvious, the legislation that will make them law is specific and detailed. It has been written to anticipate any potential loopholes and plug them in advance.

Virginians have a right to expect their elected public officials will maintain the highest ethical standards. They expect lawmakers to respect and hold sacred the trust placed in them by the voters.

That’s why so much work by legislators of both parties has gone into crafting this important package of reforms.

In the House of Delegates, the prospects for ethics reform are excellent. Speaker (William J.) Howell, House Majority Leader (M. Kirkland) Cox, and House Minority Leader (David J.) Toscano are all supporting this package. They’ve put partisanship aside to come together to do what’s best for the people of Virginia.

In the Senate, the situation is more tenuous. Although I am the Senate sponsor of this legislation and am committed to its passage, the Senate Democratic Caucus has yet to join their House counterparts in supporting ethics reform.

Today, I extended an invitation to them to join their Republican colleagues in supporting the ethics reform package.

Many Senate Democrats have publicly indicated they want to enact ethics reform. Because the Senate is so closely divided, Senate Democrats may be able to block this bipartisan, bicameral package of ethics reform.

Along with the passage of a two-year budget, reforming Virginia’s ethics and financial disclosure laws is probably the most important and significant work the General Assembly will do this session. That’s why delegates have set aside partisanship to support this package.

Now, it’s time for Senate Democrats to follow their example, set aside partisanship, and do what’s right for the people of Virginia.

Email Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. at