A bill stiffening the penalty for public officials misusing their position for personal gain passed its initial committee hearing on Thursday (Jan. 19).
Senate Bill 27, which prohibits public officials from misusing their position for personal gain, provides a penalty therefor and implements a grievance process for reporting misuse, passed the Senate Judiciary committee on a 7-0 vote.
SB 27 defines a public official as an elected official, appointed official, officer, employee, authority member, board member, commission member, fiscal agent or executive of a local service agency and would include individuals filling the positions listed previously in school districts.
AG Jackley said the bill “narrowly defines the activity we’re trying to address” and elevates the penalties for committing such acts from misdemeanors to felonies, with an increase in the level of felony based on the amount of money.
AG Jackley noted that the “statute doesn’t apply” should a mistake be made by a public official, only if the individual “knowingly” misuses their powers or resources for personal benefit.
SB 27 removes a condition of presumed probation for perpetrators with AG Jackley saying “there will be a jail sentence.”
In addition, the bill institutes an anti-retaliation grievance process designed to promote employees of public officials to come forward with information on the possible misuse of power and resources.
SB 27 heads to the Senate floor for review where it could see an amendment from Sen. Stace Nelson to include the actual employee of a public official as a medium that could be misused for personal gain. AG Jackley said he would consider it a friendly amendment, but added the matter may already be covered in the bill.