Code of Virginia

Code of Virginia
Title 30. General Assembly
7/27/2017

Chapter 56. Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.

§ 30-355. Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council; membership; terms; quorum; expenses.

A. The Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council (the Council) is hereby created as an advisory council in the legislative branch to encourage and facilitate compliance with the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act (§ 2.2-3100 et seq.) and the General Assembly Conflicts of Interests Act (§ 30-100 et seq.)(hereafter the Acts) and the lobbying laws in Article 3 (§ 2.2-418 et seq.) of Chapter 4 of Title 2.2 (hereafter Article 3).

B. The Council shall consist of nine members as follows: three members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, two of whom shall be members of the House of Delegates and one of whom shall be a former judge of a court of record; three members appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules, two of whom shall be members of the Senate and one of whom shall be a former judge of a court of record; and three members appointed by the Governor, one of whom shall be a current or former executive branch employee, one of whom shall be appointed from a list of three nominees submitted by the Virginia Association of Counties, and one of whom shall be appointed from a list of three nominees submitted by the Virginia Municipal League. In the appointment to the Council of members of the House of Delegates made by the Speaker and members of the Senate made by the Senate Committee on Rules, equal representation shall be given to each of the political parties having the highest and next highest number of members elected to their respective body. All members of the Council are subject to confirmation by the General Assembly by a majority vote in each house of (i) the members present of the majority party and (ii) the members present of the minority party.

C. All appointments following the initial staggering of terms shall be for terms of four years, except that appointments to fill vacancies shall be for the unexpired terms in the same manner as the original appointment. No nonlegislative citizen member shall be eligible to serve for more than two successive four-year terms. However, after the expiration of a term of three years or less, or after the expiration of the remainder of a term to which appointed to fill a vacancy, two additional terms may be served by such member if appointed thereto. Legislative members and other state government officials shall serve terms coincident with their terms of office. Legislative members may be reappointed for successive terms.

D. The members of the Council shall elect from among their membership a chairman and a vice-chairman for two-year terms. The chairman and vice-chairman may not succeed themselves to the same position. The Council shall hold meetings quarterly or upon the call of the chairman. A majority of the Council appointed shall constitute a quorum.

E. Members of the Council shall receive no compensation for their services but shall be reimbursed for all reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties as provided in §§ 2.2-2813, 2.2-2825, and 30-19.12, as appropriate. Funding for expenses of the members shall be provided from existing appropriations to the Council.

2014, cc. 792, 804; 2015, cc. 763, 777.

§ 30-356. Powers and duties of the Council.

The Council shall:

1. Prescribe the forms required for complying with the disclosure requirements of Article 3 and the Acts. These forms shall be the only forms used to comply with the provisions of Article 3 or the Acts. The Council shall make available the disclosure forms and shall provide guidance and other instructions to assist in the completion of the forms;

2. Review all disclosure forms filed by lobbyists pursuant to Article 3 and by state government officers and employees and legislators pursuant to the Acts. The Council may review disclosure forms for completeness, including reviewing the information contained on the face of the form to determine if the disclosure form has been fully completed and comparing the disclosures contained in any disclosure form filed by a lobbyist pursuant to § 2.2-426 with other disclosure forms filed with the Council, and requesting any amendments to ensure the completeness of and correction of errors in the forms, if necessary. If a disclosure form is found to have not been filed or to have been incomplete as filed, the Council shall notify the filer in writing and direct the filer to file a completed disclosure form within a prescribed period of time, and such notification shall be confidential and is excluded from the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.);

3. Require all disclosure forms and lobbyist registration statements that are required to be filed with the Council to be filed electronically in accordance with the standards approved by the Council. The Council shall provide software or electronic access for filing the required disclosure forms and registration statements without charge to all individuals required to file with the Council. The Council shall prescribe the method of execution and certification of electronically filed forms, including the use of an electronic signature as authorized by the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (§ 59.1-479 et seq.). The Council may grant extensions as provided in § 30-356.2 and may authorize a designee to grant such extensions;

4. Accept and review any statement received from a filer disputing the receipt by such filer of a gift that has been disclosed on the form filed by a lobbyist pursuant to Article 3;

5. Beginning July 1, 2016, establish and maintain a searchable electronic database comprising those disclosure forms that are filed with the Council pursuant to §§ 2.2-426, 2.2-3117, 2.2-3118, and 30-111. Such database shall be available to the public through the Council's official website;

6. Furnish, upon request, formal advisory opinions or guidelines and other appropriate information, including informal advice, regarding ethics, conflicts issues arising under Article 3 or the Acts, or a person's duties under Article 3 or the Acts to any person covered by Article 3 or the Acts or to any agency of state or local government, in an expeditious manner. The Council may authorize a designee to furnish formal opinions or informal advice. Formal advisory opinions are public record and shall be published on the Council's website; however, no formal advisory opinion furnished by a designee of the Council shall be available to the public or published until such opinion has been approved by the Council. Published formal advisory opinions may have such deletions and changes as may be necessary to protect the identity of the person involved or other persons supplying information. Informal advice given by the Council or the Council's designee is confidential and is excluded from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.); however, if the recipient invokes the immunity provisions of § 2.2-3121 or 30-124, the record of the request and the informal advice given shall be deemed to be a public record and shall be released upon request. Other records relating to formal advisory opinions or informal advice, including records of requests, notes, correspondence, and draft versions of such opinions or advice, shall also be confidential and excluded from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act;

7. Conduct training seminars and educational programs for lobbyists, state and local government officers and employees, legislators, and other interested persons on the requirements of Article 3 and the Acts and provide ethics orientation sessions for legislators in compliance with Article 6 (§ 30-129.1 et seq.) of Chapter 13;

8. Approve orientation courses conducted pursuant to § 2.2-3128 and, upon request, review the educational materials and approve any training or course on the requirements of Article 3 and the Acts conducted for state and local government officers and employees;

9. Publish such educational materials as it deems appropriate on the provisions of Article 3 and the Acts;

10. Review actions taken in the General Assembly with respect to the discipline of its members for the purpose of offering nonbinding advice;

11. Request from any agency of state or local government such assistance, services, and information as will enable the Council to effectively carry out its responsibilities. Information provided to the Council by an agency of state or local government shall not be released to any other party unless authorized by such agency;

12. Redact from any document or form that is to be made available to the public any residential address, personal telephone number, or signature contained on that document or form; and

13. Report on or before December 1 of each year on its activities and findings regarding Article 3 and the Acts, including recommendations for changes in the laws, to the General Assembly and the Governor. The annual report shall be submitted by the chairman as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents and reports and shall be published as a state document.

2014, cc. 792, 804; 2015, cc. 763, 777; 2016, cc. 773, 774; 2017, cc. 829, 832.

§ 30-356.1. Request for approval for certain travel.

A. The Council shall receive and review a request for the approval of travel submitted by a person required to file the disclosure form prescribed in § 2.2-3117 or 30-111 to accept any travel-related transportation, lodging, hospitality, food or beverage, or other thing of value that has a value exceeding $100 where such approval is required pursuant to subsection G of § 2.2-3103.1 or subsection F of § 30-103.1. A request for the approval of travel shall not be required for the following, but such travel shall be disclosed as may be required by the Acts:

1. Travel disclosed pursuant to the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act (§ 24.2-945 et seq.);

2. Travel paid for or provided by the government of the United States, any of its territories, or any state or any political subdivision of such state;

3. Travel provided to facilitate attendance by a legislator at a regular or special session of the General Assembly, a meeting of a legislative committee or commission, or a national conference where attendance is approved by the House Committee on Rules or its Chairman or the Senate Committee on Rules or its Chairman; or

4. Travel related to an official meeting of the Commonwealth, its political subdivisions, or any board, commission, authority, or other entity, or any charitable organization established pursuant to § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code affiliated with such entity, to which such person has been appointed or elected or is a member by virtue of his office or employment.

B. When reviewing a request for the approval of travel, the Council shall consider the purpose of the travel as it relates to the official duties of the requester. The Council shall approve any request for travel that bears a reasonable relationship between the purpose of the travel and the official duties of the requester. Such travel shall include any meeting, conference, or other event (i) composed primarily of public officials, (ii) at which public policy related to the duties of the requester will be discussed in a substantial manner, (iii) reasonably expected to educate the requester on issues relevant to his official duties or to enhance the requester's knowledge and skills relative to his official duties, or (iv) at which the requester has been invited to speak regarding matters reasonably related to the requester's official duties.

C. The Council shall not approve any travel requests that bear no reasonable relationship between the purpose of the proposed travel and the official duties of the requester. In making such determination, the Council shall consider the duration of travel, the destination of travel, the estimated value of travel, and any previous or recurring travel.

D. Within five business days of receipt of a request for the approval of travel, the Council shall grant or deny the request, unless additional information has been requested. If additional information has been requested, the Council shall grant or deny the request for the approval within five business days of receipt of such information. If the Council has not granted or denied the request for approval of travel or requested additional information within such five-day period, such travel shall be deemed to have been approved by the Council. Nothing in this subsection shall preclude a person from amending or resubmitting a request for the approval of travel. The Council may authorize a designee to review and grant or deny requests for the approval of travel.

E. A request for the approval of travel shall be on a form prescribed by the Council and made available on its website. Such form may be submitted by electronic means, facsimile, in-person submission, or mail or commercial mail delivery.

F. No person shall be prosecuted, assessed a civil penalty, or otherwise disciplined for acceptance of a travel-related thing of value if he accepted the travel-related thing of value after receiving approval under this section, regardless of whether such approval is later withdrawn, provided the travel occurred prior to the withdrawal of the approval.

2015, cc. 763, 777; 2016, cc. 773, 774.

§ 30-356.2. Right to grant extensions in special circumstances; civil penalty.

A. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person required to file the disclosure form prescribed in Article 3 or the Acts shall be entitled to an extension where good cause for granting such an extension has been shown, as determined by the Council. Good cause shall include:

1. The death of a relative of the filer, as relative is defined in the definition of "gift" in Article 3 or the Acts.

2. A state of emergency is declared by the Governor pursuant to Chapter 3.2 (§ 44-146.13 et seq.) of Title 44 or declared by the President of the United States or the governor of another state pursuant to law and confirmed by the Governor by an executive order, and such an emergency interferes with the timely filing of disclosure forms. The extension shall be granted only for those filers in areas affected by such emergency.

3. The filer is a member of a uniformed service of the United States and is on active duty on the date of the filing deadline.

4. A failure of the electronic filing system and the failure of such system prevents the timely filing of disclosure forms.

B. For any person who is unable to timely file the disclosure form prescribed in the Acts due to the disclosure form not being made available to him until after the deadline has passed, the Council shall grant such person a five-day extension upon request. The head of the agency for which the person works or the clerk of the school board or governing body of the locality that was responsible for providing the disclosure form to such person shall be assessed a civil penalty in the amount equal to $250, to be collected in accordance with the procedure set forth in subsection B of § 2.2-3124. If the disclosure form is provided to the person within three days prior to the filing deadline, the Council shall grant such person a three-day extension upon request and no civil penalties shall be assessed against the head of such person's agency or the clerk.

2016, cc. 773, 774; 2017, cc. 829, 832.

§ 30-357. Staff.

Staff assistance to the Council shall be provided by the Division of Legislative Services. Staff shall perform those duties assigned to it by the Council, including those duties enumerated in § 30-356. The Division of Legislative Services shall employ an executive director, who shall be subject to the confirmation of the Joint Committee on Rules.

2014, cc. 792, 804; 2015, cc. 763, 777.

§ 30-358. Cooperation of agencies of state and local government.

Every department, division, board, bureau, commission, authority, or political subdivision of the Commonwealth shall cooperate with, and provide such assistance to, the Council as the Council may request.

2014, cc. 792, 804.

The chapters of the acts of assembly referenced in the historical citation at the end of these sections may not constitute a comprehensive list of such chapters and may exclude chapters whose provisions have expired.

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