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Beshear orders ethics reform




FRANKFORT

Gov. Steve Beshear was unsuccessful at persuading the Kentucky General Assembly earlier this year to overhaul the state ethics code, so on Tuesday he took matters into his own hands.

Beshear, a Democrat who was elected in November as a government reformer, signed an executive order Tuesday he said was aimed at preserving integrity and accountability in the state’s executive branch. The changes, which include mandatory ethics training for state employees, take effect immediately, Beshear said.

“Unfortunately, the General Assembly failed to pass these proposals – a failure that I find unacceptable,” Beshear said. “Neither I, nor the people of Kentucky can wait another year to change the way we do business in Frankfort. These changes are too important.”

An attorney by trade, Beshear defeated former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher in November in an election that centered on ethics.

Fletcher, who was elected in 2003 as Kentucky’s first GOP governor in about 30 years, was politically wounded by an investigation of allegations of improper hiring. The misdemeanor charges were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.

Fletcher also pardoned his entire administration for any possible charges that could stem from the probe.

Beshear campaigned against Fletcher, in part, on a promise to restore government ethics.

With Tuesday’s order, Beshear also shuffled the way members are appointed to a state ethics panel, by requiring input from the state’s attorney general and state auditor. Democrats currently hold both those offices.

Jill LeMaster, executive director of the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Committee, said the panel supported the changes.

“These changes will ensure the credibility and independence of the commission,” LeMaster said.

State employees would also be barred from getting a job from companies or people that do business with their government agencies. And, 74 regulatory boards throughout state government now would be subject to state rules dealing with gifts and conflicts of interest.

“Collectively, these changes close loopholes in current ethics policy,” Beshear said. “They make state government more open and they make more consistent the ethical behavior required both morally and legally of all state workers – including the governor.”

But Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the governor’s executive order didn’t go far enough. Williams said Beshear should have limited contractors and lobbyists from giving political donations to executive branch members.

“I think that this is an attempt by the governor to cover up the fact that he was unsuccessful in getting any executive branch ethics reform passed in the last session of the General Assembly,” Williams said.

Speaker Jody Richards, DBowling Green, said the House approved Beshear’s ethics package without any opposition. Richards blamed unresolved differences between the Republican led Senate and Beshear for the legislation’s stall.

“Kentucky has one of the strictest legislative ethics codes in the nation, and I look forward to working with the governor and the Senate to pass an equally strong executive ethics bill when we go back into session next year,” Richards said.


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