House passes ethics bill

Published 10:45 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2015

By Benjamin May

Capital News Service

The House of Delegates on Tuesday passed a bill that would limit gifts accepted by Virginia politicians to $100.

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Delegates voted 93-6 for the measure, which was sponsored by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. All of Suffolk’s delegates voted in favor of the measure.

HB 2070 is the House’s answer to problems concerning ethics rules for public officials. Gifts accepted by politicians became a hot topic after former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was convicted of corruption charges in 2014.

“This legislation builds on the substantial reforms passed last year,” Gilbert said. “It will improve transparency, hold elected officials more accountable and hopefully restore some of the public’s trust in government.”

The $100 cap on gifts would apply to travel and other “intangible” items as well.

“We set a $250 gift cap last year, but it was clear after hearing from citizens across the commonwealth that the public demanded more,” Gilbert said. “The $100 gift cap is a reasonable and clear limit that is easy for the public and elected officials to understand.”

Limiting gifts is not the only thing the bill does. HB 2070 requires public officials to electronically file their disclosure forms. Electronic filing would save money and time for the politicians and the state’s Conflict of Interest Advisory Council, an ethics panel legislators created in 2014.

“We are enacting a strict gift cap, strengthening independent oversight and making our financial disclosure system more accessible and transparent,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford.

HB 2070 includes a measure that Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed last year. It would prohibit the governor from knowingly accepting campaign contributions from companies seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, which provides incentives for businesses moving Virginia.

Both the House of Delegates and the Senate are considering ethics bills. They have similarities but also differences.

For example, under HB 2070, knowingly filing false information through the electronic database would be a class 5 felony. This is a harsher punishment than the Senate bill provides. Under SB 1424, knowingly filing false information through the database would be a class 6 felony.