The 2010 regular session is well under way in Charleston and so far the highlight of week one has been the quick passage of House Bill 4016 in the House of Delegates. This bill will now head over for us to consider on the Senate side. It will first go to the Senate Judiciary Committee that I serve on.
Under this bill, West Virginia's public servants would disclose more about their financial holdings and outside jobs, and for the first time report the same details about their spouses. It will be interesting to see if the bill is taken up in the Senate since some members of the Legislative leadership have spouses working in very high-paying positions within state government. However, since the next reporting period will be after November's election, it potentially could be considered.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the House, would also prevent an array of officials from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving public service. Delegates amended the bill Jan. 20 to extend that provision to the state's elected executive branch officers, while rejecting a bid to apply it to political party chairs.
The bill also called on officials to disclose whenever they or their spouses are directors or officers for nonprofit groups. A third approved amendment would have disclosures posted online, starting next year with statewide officials.
The state Ethics Commission oversees the disclosure filings of officials, fielding more than 3,500 annually. It requested the bulk of the measure, after the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity gave the state an "F" last year for its disclosure standards.
The key elements would require officials to report specific kinds of assets that they or their spouses held: privately owned businesses, commercial real estate and stocks, bonds and other securities not held in mutual funds or retirement accounts that they don't direct themselves.
The new language sets the reporting threshold at assets worth $10,000 or more. The law now requires a listing of business interests worth more than $10,000 and does not include spouses.
Various kinds of public servants can hold outside jobs, including state board appointees, county commissioners and members of the part-time Legislature. Besides the names and addresses of employers that they now list, such officials would also disclose job titles and describe their duties under the bill.
The revolving-door provision would apply to lawmakers, cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs, their deputies and appointees of constitutional officers. Historically, some legislators have been rewarded these positions which, often, tremendously increases their retirement benefits and cost to the taxpayers. This provision would require that they leave their legislative position for one year before assuming the new responsibilities.
This was truly a bipartisan effort in the House as many top Democrats supported it and GOP delegates had previously proposed requiring spouse disclosures and advocated the successful amendments. I am hopeful it will receive the same bipartisan support in the Senate.
I believe this bill will do wonders for ensuring the integrity of state government and the trust of the fine people we represent.
The West Virginia Legislature has both Facebook and Twitter accounts that are updated constantly throughout the legislative session. We work hard to find new and innovative ways to be transparent as we do our work.
I hope that you will take advantage of these exciting new ways to follow our progress on a daily, hourly and sometimes minute-to-minute basis.
I encourage you to tell me what you think about this or any other issue affecting our state and our district. You can write to me at Clark S. Barnes, State Senate, West Wing, Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, W.Va. 25305. You can contact me by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call my Charleston office at 304-357-7973.
(Editor's note: Barnes, a Republican, is a state senator representing the 15th District.)