Ethics bill passes Mississippi Senate|[02/15/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

JACKSON — Want to know whether a public official holds stock in a certain company? Under current Mississippi law, you have to file a written request with the state Ethics Commission to get a copy of the politician’s annual economic disclosure form.

Then you might have to wait for the document to arrive. And, by the way, you’re letting the official know that you’re wondering about his wallet.

Under a bill passed by the state Senate Thursday, the Ethics Commission would be authorized to post politicians’ economic disclosure forms online — and that would make the forms available to anyone anywhere on the globe, with just the click of a computer mouse.

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The greater disclosure is one of several provisions in a sweeping ethics bill that passed 46-0. The bill moves to the House for more work.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who took office in January, said he wants to send a message across the nation that “this will be the most ethical government in Mississippi history.”

The bill would allow the Ethics Commission to mediate disputes about Open Meetings.

Under current law, a person has to file a lawsuit if he believes a city council or other public body has improperly closed a meeting. Under the Senate plan, a person would still have the right to sue if they’re not happy with the Ethics Commission decision.

The fine would remain $100 for a board that is found to have violated the Open Meetings law.

The Senate bill would not change the handling of Public Records disputes. Lawmakers said those provisions could be added as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Tom Hood, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, noted Thursday that some national watchdog groups have given Mississippi failing grades for government openness.

The bill also would:

Require more officials, such as those who serve on local economic development boards, to file forms disclosing the sources of their income.

Require public officials to disclose more information about gifts and about travel paid by private groups.

Expand the list of public officials’ relatives covered by nepotism laws to include stepchildren, foster children, stepparents and a few others.

House votes 61-60 to increase pay for elected officials