Ethics Commission adopts 2 year cooling off period during today's meeting

oklahoma ethics commission

Post Government Service "Cooling Off" Period Amendment Information

A big thanks to those who attended the Commission meeting and public hearing today, and especially those who participated by providing public comments. 

During today's meeting the Commission unanimously adopted Ethics Rule Amendment 2019-03.  This was the same language approved by the Commission in February of this year, but later rejected by the legislature during the legislative session.    

This Rule change will apply only to elected state officers and agency heads  when they are paid to engage in certain activities involving the state of Oklahoma and only for two years after leaving state service.  

Who is impacted by the change? What activity is restricted?  When does it become effective? Those questions and others are answered below.    

What is a “cooling off” period?

Generally, a cooling off period refers to a period of time where a former government official is restricted from representing the interests of a new employer before the government entity he or she previously served. 

What do cooling off periods provide?

State officials are public servants trusted with carrying out the laws of the state of Oklahoma for the public good. Cooling off periods seek to avoid conflicts between state officers’ public responsibilities and private economic interests.

What did the Commission review in drafting the cooling off period amendment?

The Commission reviewed existing law in Oklahoma and other states and considered the safeguards those restrictions were intended to provide, and whether existing Oklahoma law was sufficient.  Two-thirds of states have cooling off periods for elected state officers, and approximately half of states extend cooling off periods to non-elected officers and/or employees. Restrictions range in application from high-level officers and employees to all state officers and employees and their spouses.  Cooling off periods range from 6 months to 2 years.

The Oklahoma Constitution provides post government service restrictions to legislators regarding interests in contracts with the state or political subdivisions and establishes a two-year period as the appropriate length of time for the restriction.  Outside of the constitution, existing misuse of office provisions in Oklahoma apply to all state officers and employees, however, those restrictions end when that person leaves office, unlike the restriction applicable to legislators.  The Commission’s Rule change remedies these problems.

Does the cooling off period apply to all state officers and employees?

No. The cooling off period applies only to elected officers and non-elected chief administrative officers of agencies (there is only one chief administrative officer at each agency).  

What activity will elected officers and chief administrative officers be restricted from engaging in?

The cooling off period restricts elected officers and chief administrative officers from:

  1. lobbying (being paid to influence state law or policy);
  2. representing a third party for compensation (such as representing someone in a contract with the state); or 
  3. influencing, or attempting to influence, actions of an agency for compensation (such as issuance of a license, disciplinary actions, etc.)

at agencies the individual previously served, an agency within the officer’s official responsibility, or an agency where the officer personally participated in a matter.

Does the cooling off period apply to former state attorneys?

The two-year cooling off period does not apply to an attorney representing a client in a legal, non-lobbying capacity in a court of law.

Will the cooling off period prevent a former state officer or employee from volunteering their time either for themselves, others, or organizations?

No, the cooling off period will not prevent anyone’s ability to volunteer their time or services without compensation.  In Oklahoma, the term “lobbyist” means an individual retained for compensation to lobby.  The other restricted actions within the cooling off period only apply to activities where the former state officer or employee is compensated.

Will the cooling off period prevent an elected state officer or chief administrative officer from going to work for a company that has a lobbyist?

No, the cooling off period does not prevent an individual from being employed by any entity, including those who hire lobbyists. The cooling off period only applies to certain interactions former chief administrative officers and elected state officer have with current state officers and employees, when they are compensated for their activity. 

May an elected state officer request a waiver of the cooling off period?

Yes, any current or former state officer who may be impacted by the cooling off period may request a waiver from the cooling off period restriction.  Waivers may be granted so long as the purpose of the Rules are not impeded or hindered by the waiver.

Is a request for a waiver from the cooling off period confidential?

A waiver request is confidential until a waiver is granted or until the requester is no longer a state officer or employee.

When will the cooling off period go into effect?

The legislature may reject changes to the Ethics Rules by joint resolution that is subject to gubernatorial veto. The earliest the Rule change would go into effect is sine die adjournment of the Legislature, which could happen on or before May 31, 2019.  When the Legislature adjourns sine die the Commission will send out information via email and on Twitter of the changes to the Rules.  

Will the cooling off period apply to state officers who left state service before the effective date of the rule?

No, the proposed cooling off period Rule expressly states it will not retroactively impact any individual who left state service prior to the effective date. The cooling off period would only apply to elected state officers who leave state office after the effective date of the rules. 

Does the Ethics Commission have the jurisdiction to regulate individuals who are not state officers or employees?

One of the Ethics Commission’s constitutionally imposed duties is to promulgate rules for the ethical conduct of state officers and employees. Within the Ethics Commission’s rulemaking jurisdiction to regulate the ethical conduct of state officers and employees is the authority to promulgate rules relating to interactions with current state officers and employees.  This jurisdiction includes rules regulating individuals who may serve as lobbyists to lobby the legislature and state agencies, vendors seeking to do business with the state of Oklahoma,  or others who may represent entities before state agencies.

Text of the Cooling Off Period. Click on the button below to review the text of the cooling off period. 

2019-03 Adopted Language