RICHMOND, VA – Republican and Democratic lawmakers announced Tuesday a bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive package of reforms to Virginia’s ethics, transparency and disclosure laws. The agreement is the result of months-long discussions between members of both parties and includes over a dozen reforms in four major categories.
If adopted, the proposal would institute a $250 gift cap on tangible items from lobbyists and individuals with business before the state. It would create a “State Ethics Advisory Commission” tasked with reviewing financial disclosures, maintaining an online transparency website and conducting mandatory training for elected officials, among other responsibilities. The proposal would make reforms to modernize and update the disclosure system to require the disclosure of gifts given to family members, synchronize filing deadlines for legislator and lobbyist disclosures and clarify important definitions related to “gifts,” “travel” and other expenses. The proposal would also institute intensive, mandatory ethics and disclosure training for all elected officials.
Speaking about the proposal, House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said:
“The agreement announced today is the result of months of painstaking work by members of both parties and demonstrates a bipartisan understanding of the need to preserve trust in government. We hope the changes outlined today will help restore any public trust lost due to recent events. The citizens of the Commonwealth must know without hesitation or qualification that their elected leaders can be trusted to execute their duties with the highest degree of integrity and virtue.
“These are strong, comprehensive reforms that will increase accountability, promote greater transparency and preserve the integrity of state government and those who serve the citizens of our Commonwealth. We recognize that the legislative process always results in changes, often for the better, but hope that our colleagues in the General Assembly will review these proposals carefully and that they, as well as the public, can embrace them.”
The agreement is currently being drafted into legislative form and will be filed in the coming weeks. It includes over a dozen reforms in four major categories.
Gift Ban & Cap
- Enact a ban on the solicitation of gifts from lobbyists and individuals with business before the state
- Enact a $250 per-item cap on tangible gifts from lobbyists and individuals with business before the state
- Other items related to official business like travel and food will not be subject to this cap, but will remain subject to reporting requirements
- Similar to other states, the cap will be indexed to the Consumer Price Index
State Ethics Advisory Commission
- Create a “State Ethics Advisory Commission” comprised of legislator and citizen appointees
- Task the Commission with the following:
- Regular review of all lobbyist, legislator, executive branch and local government financial disclosures
- Posting and maintaining all disclosure forms online in searchable form
- Offer advice to individuals under the Conflicts of Interest Act, similar to how the FOIA Council successfully operates today
- Issue formal advisory opinions related to ethics, transparency and disclosure
- Serve as the official study commission for the General Assembly on ethics, transparency and disclosure matters
- Conduct official training and education courses for individuals under COIA and the public
- The commission will not have subpoena or independent investigatory powers, as the House and Senate Ethics Advisory Panels already have such powers.
Modernize & Update Disclosure System
- Increase financial disclosure reporting requirements from once to twice per year for lobbyists and lawmakers
- Require gifts to and finances of spouses and immediate family members to be reported on financial disclosure forms; redefine “immediate family” to mean (i) a Spouse and (ii) any children residing in the same household as the officer or employee, who is a dependent of the officer or employee.
- Synchronize filing deadlines for legislator and lobbyist disclosures
- Require lobbyists to give detailed listings of all gifts within 10 days of the end of their reporting period
- Maintain current, one-month window between end of reporting period and filing deadline
- Clarify definitions for Schedule D (Travel) and Schedule E (gifts)
- Clarify exemptions for gifts given from “personal friends;”
- Require completed forms and specifics; include self-reporting ethics training testament
- Require intensive, mandatory Ethics and disclosure training for all elected officials
- Require elected officials to undergo “refresher” courses, similar to Continuing Legal Education courses taken by lawyers, in accordance with their terms of office.
- Training will be offered by the State Ethics Advisory Commission. It will be available online.
- Require elected officials to “self-report” completion of ethics training.