WV Senate OKs bill to clarify nepotism law

A push to clamp down on nepotism in state and local government in West Virginia cleared another hurdle in the Legislature Tuesday.

State senators voted unanimously to pass legislation (HB2001) that bars public officials from “showing favoritism” or “granting patronage” to family members in government jobs.

“This is an ethical prohibition on what is essentially nepotism, and we’ll be putting it into statute for the first time,” said state Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan.

For years, the state Ethics Commission has held that nepotism violates ethics laws that bar public officials from using their office for private gain. But existing law doesn’t specifically address nepotism.

The House of Delegates passed the bill last month. The Senate revised the legislation, so it will go back to the House, which will decide whether to accept or reject the changes. The modifications aren’t expected to derail the bill.

“Much of what the House bill did is preserved,” Trump said.

The legislation also puts restrictions on public officials who steer funds to nonprofit groups whose boards they serve on. The House version requires public officials to recuse themselves from such funding vote, even if they’re unpaid, nonprofit board members. The Senate’s changes require public officials to disclose their relationship to the nonprofit – they could still award funds, provided they weren’t on the nonprofit’s payroll.

The legislation also aims to shine more light on state contracts and who stands to benefit.

The bill requires companies and consultants with state contracts to disclose the names of those who have at least a 25 percent stake in the deal. The names of lawyers, brokers and advisors also must be disclosed. The information would be reported to the Ethics Commission and be made available to the public.

“It’s designed to give the public a view into who is behind these contracts when they’re large,” Trump said.

The Senate version exempts money managers who have contracts with the West Virginia Investment Management Board. The Senate also modified the contract reporting requirements for public colleges and universities.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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