Gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid recently outlined his proposal to reform ethics rules in Nevada. His proposal includes: ending lobbying of state agencies by current legislators; penalizing non-willful violations of ethics rules; establishing a two-year cooling off period for lobbying by former legislators or former state employees; and releasing the Governor’s “official” schedule to the public.
The first of these proposals might be the trickiest to actually enact into law in light of the recent Nevada Supreme Court decision in Commission on Ethics v. Hardy. In that opinion, the Court held that the power to discipline current legislators resides solely within the Legislative branch and cannot be delegated to the Ethics Commission. And because the Legislature can create its own standing rules without gubernatorial approval, whether this reform would be enacted in accordance with Commissioner Reid’s plan is an open question. Regardless, the Ethics Commission would not have any enforcement authority over infractions by current legislators.
The proposal to penalize non-willful violations of the ethics rules would remove the existing defense commonly used by public officials allowing them to avoid harsh penalties by claiming an ignorance of the law. It seems to be a well-advised reform to the ethics rules, although even a non-willful ethics violation can serve as a serious black mark on the resume of a public official.
With respect to the cooling off period, existing law requires a one-year cooling off period for former executive branch employees for representation on any case, proceeding, application, contract or determination that was pending at the employee’s former agency during his or her employment. There is no cooling off period for representation by former executive branch employees on legislative measures or administrative regulations. With respect to former legislators or former employees of the legislative or judicial branches, there is currently no cooling off period whatsoever on any type of representation. A two year cooling off period as proposed by Mr. Reid would dramatically change the ethics landscape for both former legislators and former state employees of all branches.
The final proposal would be to release the Governor’s “official schedule.” What Mr. Reid means by an “official schedule” is unclear. The current Governor publicly releases his official schedule of events and meetings, but one would be hard-pressed to find any elected official who would be willing to release a schedule of every meeting and phone call that occurs throughout the day.