State senator pushing ethics reform
WHEELING — State Sen. William Ihlenfeld wants to focus on ethics reform during the current session of the West Virginia Legislature.
Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, already has introduced Senate Bill 112, which would prohibit legislators and part-time public officials from having a financial interest in state contracts.
Last year during his first year in the Legislature, Ihlenfeld proposed similar legislation. The bill did not advance.
“I was surprised how difficult it was to move a bill to increase accountability and transparency for legislators,” he said. “It is a common-sense piece of legislation that would shine the light on business dealings by lawmakers with the state.”
Passage of the bill “would have been good government,” he said.
“I couldn’t even get a vote on it in the government organization committee,” Ihlenfeld said. “We had a discussion one day, and despite my repeated requests, I was unable to do that.
“That spoke volumes to me. A bill that would increase accountability for legislators couldn’t even get a vote in committee. It made we want to work even harder this session to push it through.”
Ihlenfeld also plans to introduce legislation requiring West Virginia’s governors to place their assets into a blind trust, and another bill creating the Office of Inspector General to identify fraud, waste and government wrongdoing in the state.
Ihlenfeld, a former U.S. attorney, termed ethics reform “a priority for me personally.”
“It’s important that governors separate their personal business from the work they do for the people of West Virginia,” Ihlenfeld said. “We have a situation now where our chief executive (Gov. Jim Justice) owns more than 100 businesses, many of which are in industries the state regulates, such as mining, gaming and farming.
“The governor owns a resort where taxpayer dollars are expended for government meetings, and that has an advertising budget that’s subsidized by the state. With a blind trust, these entities would be placed under the control of an independent manager to avoid conflicts of interest and hopefully begin to restore the public’s faith in our government.”
He said lawmakers need to restore trust in the state’s elected officials.
“There needs to be accountability among government officials,” Ihlenfeld said. “We need to let the public know they are doing things the right way, and that our lawmakers aren’t getting special treatment because of the position they hold. We need to have laws in place that align with principles. That’s why they are so important.”
(King can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)