Saturday, August 22, 2009

Accidentally on Purpose

Utah legislators were trying to make some small changes to gift disclosure laws last year. You know, the kind of changes that make it look like they're doing something meaningful but that don't come anywhere close to the changes that their constituents want?

Well, they accidentally made a big change on the scale that ethics reform advocates have been asking for.

For some reason, rounds of golf and tickets to sporting events and concerts didn't used to be considered gifts. I don't know what they were before if they weren't gifts, but that's another conversation. I mean, I'm cool with a meal being treated differently than a gift, but free courtside seats to an NBA game is a gift.

So gifts over $50 had previously been banned. The accident came when the legislators writing the bill were attempting to just require that the names of legislators accepting gifts over $10 be disclosed. The "problem" was that in that process, they accidentally included event tickets and golf in the gift category, making it illegal to accept them if worth more than $50.

I almost felt sorry for John Valentine, a Republican from Orem, when I heard his story about how he had to turn down tickets to an Atlanta Braves game. I'm not sure how going to the see the Braves play has anything to do with the state of Utah, though.

The real question is what the legislature is going to do about it. It's frustrating but understandable when legislators don't vote to enact legislation that restricts giving to themselves. It makes sense that they would talk a lot about how important it is and then slowly each year make little tiny changes until their constituents stop complaining. But now that a major restriction has been put into place, can they remove it without a huge backlash? Any vote now to remove the restriction, even if it was accidentally put into place, will be very difficult to sell. Who wants to be the sponsor of a bill that says "please give us more gifts"?

Maybe Chris Buttars will do it. He doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, and the voters in South Jordan keep voting him back in, in spite of his idiocy. It probably wouldn't pass, though, since I think at least a simple majority of the legislature would be smart enough not to side with Buttars on anything this high up on the media's watch list. That may be giving legislators too much credit, though, especially considering the only reason they did the right thing on the gift ban bill to begin with was because everybody accidentally forgot to actually read the bill and think about the consequences of voting for it. Like they do with most everything else they vote on.

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