A bill merging the state Executive Ethics Board into the Public Disclosure Commission failed to get a vote in committee this morning. It was one of several stalled measures that are meant to wring savings from agencies through reconfiguring them.
We'll have to wait until House Democrats roll out their two-year operating budget Monday to know how tenaciously the majority party is gripping its consolidation proposals.
House Bill 2028 had critics on the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee , who dislike moving the Executive Ethics Board. The Republican Attorney General's chief deputy, Brian Moran, testified against it Thursday saying: "I don't believe there will be a cost savings in this bill."
Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia and chair of the committee, scheduled HB 2028 for a vote this morning but apparently didn't have enough votes in his own caucus to move anything. Democratic Rep. Chris Hurst was unavailable, and Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, said the Republicans were locked up against the move.
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Other proposals including a raid on Heritage Center funds to pay for museums and a change in state printer rules also awaited committee votes. Alexander opposes moving the State Library into a new heritage and arts agency, and he also is pushing an alternative to end the state printer.
The votes on the savings bills now are expected to come next week, if at all. Alexander may offer his printer amendment when that measure, HB 2035, goes to the House floor.
If HB 2028 is approved, the relocation of the ethics board would mark a major change in the structure of ethics enforcement since the Ethics in Public Service Act passed in 1994. The EEB and Legislative Ethics Board were created in response to a scandal over misuse of public resources for campaign purposes by legislative caucuses, which ended up paying large fines.
Executive Ethics Board chairman Mike Connelly of Spokane testified Thursday in Hunt's committee that the functions and legal expertise at the ethics and campaign finance agencies are very different and might be impaired by combining them. Sponsoring Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, has not said how the EEB's investigative expertise might be saved.
The AG's Office oversees the Executive Ethics Board, its four employees and $1 million two-year budget, and the PDC is a separate, stand-alone agency. The PDC's citizen commissioners are officially neutral on the idea.
Lacey activist Rob Kavanaugh has tangled with state agencies over actions he considered unethical and he has filed a number of complaints at the EEB. He testified that he strongly supports the merger as a way to make the board become more effective, accusing it of libeling citizens and searching a home without a warrant.
"I do not feel the attorney general has given adequate resources or support ..." Kavanaugh said, describing the agency as also overwhelmed. "I find their rulings are and nonsensical in many cases."