EDITORIAL: State Senate must act on ethics reform bills

·2 min read

Jul. 22—Kudos to the Michigan House for passing a bipartisan ethics reform package last month, but it's now up to the Senate to approve the legislation intended to bring more accountability and better governing practices to Lansing.

Legislators shouldn't delay voting on the proposals to increase oversight and transparency for the Legislature and other state offices and departments, including the governor's office. There are only a few scheduled session days this summer, but this should be a top priority this fall.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, has led this effort, and he deserves credit for getting it this far.

As passed by the House, these proposals would limit lobbyists and require Michigan officeholders to report conflicts of interest without making their finances available to the public.

The bills represent a common-sense approach, balancing the privacy of lawmakers with transparency for citizens who deserve to know if politicians have personal incentives for policymaking.

This isn't the first time similar bills have been introduced, but this should be the time they make it into the law.

"I think that the bills were crafted knowing the history, knowing what has made things difficult in the past," says Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, who introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan ethics committee in each body.

Fink's proposal would create two committees responsible for reviewing confidential financial disclosures and ensuring that legislators don't become lobbyists within two years after leaving office. Even though the bill would not allow the public total access to finances, it is better than what is currently on the books.

The committees would investigate and advise on ethical violations, conflicts of interest and complaints.

The committee system strikes a balance between financial privacy for members while restoring some public confidence. It also removes partisanship from the oversight process by requiring committee leadership change hands every six months and party representation on the committee remain equal.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, declined to comment on the measures before the Senate, which has previously stalled similar bills.

He told our editorial board in April that while he has been "reluctant to embrace financial disclosures," he supports the structure of separate, bipartisan committees who can review financial conflicts.

The current bills would require lawmakers to file annual conflict of interest reports. These would apply also to the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, state treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and members of some state commissions, which would be required to report to the State Board of Ethics.

In addition to these reforms, we would also like to see stronger transparency laws for the Legislature and the governor's office, especially given the Whitmer administration's secretive separation deals discovered earlier this year.

Michigan is among the worst in the country for its lack of government transparency. Lawmakers have a chance to right this wrong, and the Senate shouldn't stand in the way.

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