State Rep. David Martin and the Michigan House today approved a sweeping, bipartisan reform plan that will greatly improve ethics and transparency laws for government officials.
Martin, of Davison, said the comprehensive list of reforms includes improvements to ethical standards, financial disclosure requirements, bans on conflicts of interest, and more.
“The ethical standards in place right now invite skepticism and mistrust because they are disgracefully low,” Martin said. “I’m fighting to enact higher standards that will end the political games once and for all and make sure politicians who don’t act in the best interest of the public can be held accountable.”
Currently, Michigan is one of just 12 states with no set waiting period before a legislator can become a lobbyist. The part of the proposal Martin is spearheading would close the “revolving door” of state department heads and legislators who become registered lobbyists quickly after leaving their positions in state government. Under the plan, both legislators and department heads will be prohibited from becoming lobbyists for two years after the end of their term or tenure.
Additional ethics reforms approved by the House today include:
- Prohibiting legislative conflicts of interest – Lawmakers will be banned from voting for personal financial benefit.
- New, bipartisan ethics committees – Permanent House and Senate ethics committees with an equal party split and alternating co-chairs will enforce ethics and conflict of interest laws, issue advisory opinions, accept and investigate public complaints about legislator misconduct, and recommend disciplinary action. If wrongdoing is determined, then the committee’s records, including all evidence, must be made public.
- Requiring financial disclosures for state legislators – By requiring legislators to disclose their finances to a new oversight panel, conflicts of interest can be better regulated, and officials held accountable. And to make sure the overseers are doing their jobs, the disclosure forms will be made public once a legislator leaves office.
- Expanded penalties for lobbyist gift violations – Unlawful gifts worth less than $3,000 to state officials will be subject to a heightened criminal fine of up to $7,500 as well as a new civil fine of up to $2,000 per violation.
- Expanded penalties for legislative misconduct – The House and Senate will be authorized to suspend the salary and expense allowances of a legislator who acts unethically or is excessively absent by a supermajority vote.
Other ethics reforms have already begun moving in the state Legislature, including the expansion of the Freedom of Information Act and changes to the “lame duck” legislative session. A full list of the reforms is available here.
The comprehensive package now advances to the Senate for further consideration.