By CLAY CHANDLER
MBJ Staff Writer
It has been 25 years since Mississippi’s ethics laws have undergone any kind of significant change.
That changed May 12 in Gov. Haley Barbour’s office, when he applied his pen to Senate Bill 2983.
The measure introduces several new requirements for public officials, such as disclosing the sources of their incomes, revamping the laws regulating blind trusts and giving the Mississippi Ethics Commission more enforcement power over open meetings conducted by public officials.
It will now be easier to charge a public official with a crime for failing to disclose income. A public official’s financial disclosure form must now appear on the Ethics Commission’s website.
“This is something we can all be proud of,” said Barbour, who held a roughly 10-minute signing ceremony in his Capitol office. Barbour was joined by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Sen. Merle Flowers, (R-Southaven), chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, Tom Hood, director of the Ethics Commission, and others involved in the process that got the bill to Barbour’s desk.
“I hope this will be a beacon for people to get involved in public service.”
The new law will not include all of the recommendations the Ethics Commission made. One in particular was a requirement that would have forced public officials to disclose the source of gifts, loans and travel expenses.
But Bryant said he got approximately 80% of what he wanted in the bill’s final version, “and that’s about all you can ever expect in the legislation-making process.” One provision the bill did include that Bryant was not crazy about, he said, was the one that will reveal the identity of the complainant who files a grievance with the Ethics Commission against a public official.
Flowers wrote the bill, and defended not including everything the Ethics Commission asked for.
“We did not shy away from controversy,” Flowers said. “This was a long conference process, and we’re happy to finally get to this point. This is the most comprehensive ethics reform in 25 years. It opens up the government from the courthouse to the Capitol.
“Taxpayers have the assurance that public officials are now held to a higher standard. There will be easier access to open records.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .