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Ky. Senate OKs executive branch ethics legislation

FRANKFORT — Proposed ethics legislation that would impose new restrictions on Kentucky's executive branch cleared the state Senate on Friday.

Sponsored by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the bill is aimed at blocking "pay-to-play" activities. It also sets new rules for governors in using state aircraft or the ornate Governor's Mansion for political reasons.

"This is a major piece of ethics reform," Thayer said.

Thayer's measure cleared the Senate on a 32-4 vote Friday and heads to the House. Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the bill would get a "full hearing."

Thayer said the wide-ranging proposal is intended to increase disclosure and transparency in the executive branch. It would, among other things, require governors to report the names and addresses of people who attend events at the Governor's Mansion.

It would also require annual audits of the governor's use of state aircraft.

Thayer's bill would prohibit former state officials from doing business with their previous agency for up to two years after leaving government. Currently, such restrictions are in place for six months.

Candidates and public officials would be barred from seeking or accepting campaign donations from lobbyists. Campaign donors would also be prohibited from doing business with the state for 18 months after making a donation of $50 or more, under the plan.

Under the plan, members of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission would be appointed by the governor with input from the attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor. Any complaints lodged with the commission would be dismissed if the person who filed it went public.

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, said he thought the proposal had some good ideas in it. But dismissing what could otherwise be a valid complaint just because it's been made public would discourage ordinary citizens from coming forward, Beliles said.

"Whoever brings that complaint is going to have a lonely battle against powerful forces in government," Beliles said. "That's not in the public interest."

Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said the governor opposed the legislation. Midkiff noted that Kentucky already has an ethics law and Beshear already ordered enhancements to it.

"This legislation simply overreaches in an unreasonable way," Midkiff said.

Similar legislation was proposed during last year's General Assembly, but stalled before final passage. Thayer said he's hoping for better odds this year.

State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he voted against the plan because he didn't think it's needed. Carroll, a former governor, said existing ethics laws suffice.

"There is a point at which it becomes ridiculous," Carroll said. "It's just an unnecessary piece of legislation."