Commission recommends gift caps for Va. lawmakers

Commission recommends gift caps for Va. lawmakers (Image 1)
Commission recommends gift caps for Va. lawmakers (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An ethics panel created by Gov. Terry McAuliffe is recommending that state lawmakers not be able accept meals, trips and entertainment worth more than $250 from lobbyists and others.

The panel sent interim recommendations to the governor Monday that also includes creating a new commission tasked with investigating possible wrongdoing by public officials and prohibiting members of state boards and commissions from voting on matters where a conflict of interest exists.

"These recommendations represent our collective effort to provide the governor with realistic and meaningful reforms," said former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a co-chairman of the ethics commission.

Earlier this year during the legislative session, lawmakers from both parties agreed on a set of reforms that put a $250 cap on tangible gifts from certain persons, like lobbyists or those seeking state contracts. The new ethics panel recommends all types of gifts, including items like meals, trips and entertainment, given by anyone be subjected to the $250 limit.

The panel recommends that a new Ethics Review Commission be able to approval waivers in certain circumstances, like trips that serve "legitimate purpose related to the official's duties and responsibilities."

McAuliffe created the panel in September as part of an effort to improve Virginia's image after former Gov. Bob McDonnell's corruption conviction. McAuliffe - who issued an executive order early in his tenure that caps all types of gifts to himself, members of his family and his staff $100 - said he will review the recommendations before making final decisions on what kind of legislation he plans to pursue.

The panel also recommends that board and commission members be prohibited from voting on grants that would benefit family members. The Associated Press reported in September that the Virginia tobacco commission has given $21 million to an economic development group and a telephone cooperative run by family members of the commission's chairman, Republican Del. Terry Kilgore.

State legislative leaders also pledged to make ethics reform a top priority of the 2015 General Assembly following the McDonnell conviction.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans they acknowledged taking.

House Speaker William J. Howell said Monday that he will review the panel's report but noted that: "Ultimately, the responsibility to make these changes rests with the General Assembly."

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