REMARKS AS PREPARED
HB 2020 Testimony
JUNE 11, 2015
Introduction: Good afternoon Members of the Committee, Kate Brown currently serving as Oregon’s Governor. Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about House Bill 2020.
My ethics package includes three bills. These bills seek to make changes in response to the abrupt ending of the former Governor’s administration. Actions taken, or not taken, by the former Governor and the former First Lady have shone a spotlight on Oregon’s Ethics and Public Records laws.
House Bill 2019, which addresses important structural changes relating to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, passed the House with a unanimous vote and awaits a vote in the Senate.
Senate Bill 9, which originated in this committee and directs the State Auditor to conduct a performance audit of state agency public records retention and disclosure practices, has passed both chambers---it currently awaits my signature.
And the third bill in my ethics package is House Bill 2020, which tightens current statutes to be clearer and more transparent.
Today I am here to present House Bill 2020 for your consideration.
HB 2020 addresses four main issues:
First, the bill alters the definition of “public official.” This bill recognizes that the person who is the Governor’s partner – the First Lady or the First Gentleman – serves in a public role. To this end, the bill makes clear that the First Partner is a statutorily defined position. With this statutory recognition, there can be no mistaking the duties and responsibilities of the First Partner that come with holding public office.
Now, I have received many questions about how to define the First Partner in a way that reflects modern-day relationships. Obviously, the spouse or domestic partner of the Governor would serve as the First Lady or First Gentleman. The bill does allow for other monikers to be used. “Dan the First Man” for example! History has shown that sometimes our personal relationships don’t fit neatly into statutory constructions, so the bill specifically authorizes the Ethics Commission by rule to determine when an individual who “primarily has a personal relationship” with the Governor should appropriately assume the role.
Second, the bill addresses who must file Statements of Economic Interest. The bill requires the First Partner to file such a statement, in addition to the Governor. The bill also addresses the Governor’s policy advisors and requires all policy advisors and the Governor’s legal counsel and deputy legal counsel to file an SEI as well. The statements of economic interest serve the public in an important way. They disclose certain the financial interests of influential public officials. It’s imperative that the Governor, and the Governor’s office, be a model.
Third, following through on a promise I made the day I took office, this bill codifies a prohibition on accepting money or other consideration for any speaking engagement or presentation given while in office. This bill goes a step further and applies this prohibition not only to the Governor and the First Partner, but also to the four other statewide elected officials including the Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General and BOLI Commissioner. These statewide elected positions are full-time positions. Using these public platforms to solicit private speaking fees is quite simply, unacceptable.
Finally, HB 2020 increases the amount of the civil penalty that may be imposed for the willful abuse of official position by a public official. This “use of office” provision is truly the cornerstone of Oregon’s government ethics philosophy---the notion that the public trust may not be used for personal financial gain. When this tenet of our ethics laws has been violated, in an egregious and willful way, the Ethics Commission should be able to impose a larger penalty.
By and large, most public officials are doing good work and certainly are not trying to run afoul of ethics laws. However, when the public trust has been violated in a willful way, we need the tools to hold that person accountable.
In closing, I understand, all-to-well, that law changes can occur in a knee-jerk reaction to bad actors. My ethics package, and HB 2020 specifically, offers measured, thoughtful and needed changes to the ethics laws—changes we can make today to make the future better regardless of the unfortunate circumstances from which they arise.
Thank you for your time, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.