CONCORD — A bill to put some teeth in the state law regarding mandatory financial disclosures by executive-branch employees and board members is dead for this year.
The bill, HB 150, originally called for a $5,000 fine for non-compliance, but the House amended the bill to reduce the fine to $50, passing it on a voice vote in March.
The Senate, however, voted recently to retain the bill within the Executive Departments and Administration Committee for further study.
Committee Chairman Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, says she wants to examiwne the possibility of having the law enforced by the Executive Branch Ethics Committee.
“I sit on the Legislative Ethics Committee, and we struggled for quite a few years with getting representatives to file their financial disclosure forms,” she said.
“It took getting tough, sending letters saying, ‘Look you have to do this,’ and finally for the first time in anyone’s memory, this year, we got 100 percent compliance. So it is possible to do something, but you have to get a little harsh to get people to comply.”
Carson agrees that the law, which is widely disregarded, should be enforced in some fashion, but perhaps not by fines levied through the Department of Justice.
“It’s about transparency and people have a right to know whether or not people have some sort of conflict that could affect their job,” she said.
The law, known as Chapter 15-A Financial Disclosures, is designed to ensure that the performance of official duties “does not give rise to a conflict of interest” and states that anyone who is out of compliance cannot act on behalf of the state.
But the law was drafted without assigning any individual or state agency the responsibility of enforcing the disclosure requirements.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Werner Horn, R-Franklin, says the enforcement initiative is aimed at high-level department employees who are in a position to make decisions on matters in which they may have a financial interest.
The fact that the law requiring disclosure of those interests is so widely disregarded was brought to Horn’s attention by Paul Morrissette, a Franklin businessman, developer and auctioneer who was among the unsuccessful bidders when the state issued licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries.
Morrissette is suing the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the agency didn’t follow competitive bidding statutes or its own bidding guidelines in denying him one of the licenses to open an alternative treatment center.
As part of Morrissette’s legal strategy, he was hoping to determine whether any of the state officials involved in evaluating his bids had financial interests in the matter. When he discovered many officials had not even filed the required paperwork, he reached out to Horn, his state representative.
Horn pointed out at a hearing on the bill that the Executive Branch Ethics Committee has not been very aggressive in following up on complaints. “Of 40-plus complaints filed with committee, no action was taken on any of them,” he said.
Morrissette says he can’t understand the reluctance to enforce compliance with a statute that has been on the books for so many years.
“I just hope someone does something to hold these people accountable,” he said.