House passes ethics reform bill

By Joe Beck

An ethics reform bill drafted in the aftermath of the scandal that led to criminal charges against former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen passed the House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, the bill’s chief sponsor, hailed the near unanimous vote as a step forward for greater accountability and transparency and preservation of trust in government.

“It remains true to the transparency-first approach for which Virginia is known, but significantly strengthens several accountability measures,” Gilbert said in a news release.

In an interview Wednesday, Gilbert cited the 98-1 vote in favor of the bill as “recognition that we are moving the ball forward, even if it falls short of some people’s expectations.”

The bill’s provisions include a ban on tangible gifts valued at more than $250, creation of a statewide ethics advisory council and updates and modernization to the state’s financial disclosure laws. The bill also creates a mandatory training requirement for elected officials. The $250 gift limit applies to state officials and family members.

A companion bill is moving through the state Senate. Passage in the Senate would be followed by formation of a conference committee involving three to five members from each legislative chamber. They would be assigned to produce a single bill for a final vote in the Senate and House.

“I think we’re confident there will be an ethics bill on the governor’s desk at the end of this process,” Gilbert said. “It’s just a question of the form it takes at this point.”

Ethics reform assumed a high priority in the General Assembly after a scandal that led to federal indictments against the McDonnells. Authorities accuse the McDonnells of using their positions to promote the products of a company owned by a supporter who lavished them with gifts such as a $6,500 Rolex and a loan of $70,000 for a family real estate investment.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com