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New rules get legislative review panel's OK for travel vouchers and conflicts of interest

PIERRE -- The new definitions of conflicts of interest for the state Board of Minerals and Environment received clearance Tuesday from the Legislature's Rules Review Committee.

The committee also gave the green light to new rules by the State Auditor Steve Barnett setting a 60-day window for state government employees to submit a travel voucher for payment.

Employees would need to complete a form explaining the reason for the delayed submission of the voucher after 60 days and would need a supervisor's clearance.

Current procedures don't mandate a timeline, Barnett said.

The change comes in the wake of the Richard Benda travel-voucher investigation that found double billings for two airline tickets to China and one to Las Vegas.

He said there isn't a specific penalty but a supervisor might reprimand an employee for failing to timely file.

"We feel it's for better bookkeeping for the state," Barnett said.

The Board of Minerals conflict of interest definitions result from the federal Environmental Protection Agency's review of South Dakota laws and regulations.

Generally the issue is not whether you have a conflict but whether it appears you do, Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said.

How would new board members in the future know about the requirement, asked Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton. "I'm just raising the question," she said.

Johns said it's "implicit" in the oath of office but he doesn't recall any orientation session for new members when he was on the board.

That might be a consideration, he added.

Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, said others sometimes raise the issue against a person in public service. She said it's good to have a formal definition.