Fixing a flawed law

The legislative process is far from perfect, and sometimes laws are enacted that result in unintended consequences. The mark of a responsive legislature is recognizing when it has overreached and fixing the problem. An example of such a fix passed a Senate committee this week and appears headed for approval.

Lawmakers in 2007 were embarrassed by reports that several of their number failed to disclose trips to Hawaii at the expense of lobbyists. The Legislature reacted quickly, enacting a sweeping ethics reform bill to restrict the gifts and freebies a lawmaker may receive.

In the interest of cleaning up government at all levels, however, the legislation changed the rules that apply to local volunteer members of some city councils, planning commissions and other public bodies. In doing so, lawmakers required some local officials to disclose personal information they had never had to report before.

The provision that caused the most uproar was a requirement that officials list by name all adult members of their family, regardless of whether those relatives lived with them. The idea was to allow the public to judge whether any action the official took might benefit themselves or a family member in some way. The information is public, and potentially could be posted on the Internet.

Officials of most cities of any size already report such information and have for years. But 100 communities across the state fell under the requirement for the first time, including some in Southern Oregon. Some local leaders saw the rules as an invasion of their privacy.

Statewide, more than 200 resigned their posts last spring rather than comply with the requirement, leaving small towns with vacancies they would be hard pressed to fill. In Southern Oregon, Butte Falls lost four of its six City Council members. In Rogue River, two Planning Commission members and two City Council members also stepped down.

The Senate president and speaker of the House responded by appointing an Ethics Reform Review Team, which drafted legislation to ease the requirements. That measure was approved unanimously Tuesday in the Senate Rules Committee and is headed for a floor vote next week.

Senate Bill 30 removes the requirement that candidates and officeholders list the names of family members. It retains reasonable requirements that candidates and officials list all business interests, principal sources of income for themselves and other members of their household, and property they own within the jurisdiction covered by their office.

SB 30 is a reasonable adjustment to a law that was well-intentioned but went too far. It should be enacted swiftly.

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