making local government more ethical

Ethics Code Waiver Provisions and Unforeseen Consequences

An Alaskan state representative needs a new kidney. The new state ethics law does not allow gifts over $250. It has a compassionate gift exemption, but it only allows compassionate gifts with a fair market value less than $250. This is one of many unforeseen consequences that comes from ethics codes (or any legislation, for that matter).

So the state legislature is rushing through a bill to change the exemption to a reporting requirement. This seems reasonable, since it wasn’t really an exemption in any event. But it seems to be a tempest in a teapot for two reasons.

Click here to read the rest of this blog entry.

One, a kidney has no fair market value, since kidneys can’t be sold in the U.S. And the compassionate gift exemption has a requirement that the chair of the legislative council and a committee chair approve the gift. They could easily say the kidney has no fair market value, and no one would say they were doing anything wrong.

Two, every ethics code should have a waiver provision. Every unforeseen circumstance that arises shouldn’t require new legislation. A simple waiver process would have allowed the state representative to accept a kidney even without a true compassionate gift exemption, and once the waiver was given, it would provide guidance for similar matters in the future, so that the waiver system could run even more smoothly.

Exceptions should not require heroic attempts to rush legislation through. It is more heroic to plan for the unforeseen.