OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Senator Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City) hosted an interim study Monday focused on Oklahoma’s laws for ethics and accountability for elected officials.

“Ensuring public servants are held to the highest standards of conduct is essential if government officials are to earn and maintain the public’s trust,” Kirt said previously in a statement. “Oklahoma has had some spectacular breaches of public trust over the past few years. I believe that we can expose bad actors and support quality leaders by improving our ethics systems.”

Kirt said the goal for the study was to better understand the “ethics guardrails that could be put in place to improve public trust” while understanding how to strengthen Oklahoma laws and improve enforcement.

“We’ve had some instances over the past year that some people think is a conflict of interest. Some people think [they are] an ethical breach. Other people don’t. And so part of what we have to discuss is how do you make sure the public knows what’s going on,” she said Monday in an interview with KFOR. “Oklahomans want to know that public money is being used for good and that we’re not enriching ourselves as state officials. When they elect us, they count on us to represent the public and not ourselves.”

The Senator was joined by the Director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, the executive Let’s Fix This, a local, bipartisan voter advocacy group, and general counsel for the South Carolina Senate who discussed how the state enacted their system of checks and balances following a major 1990’s scandal.

J.J. Gentry, General Counsel for the South Carolina Senate Ethics Committee and immediate past chair for the National Counsel for State Legislatures, said his primary role is managing ethics for the South Carolina Senate; he also assists other states in making changes to their ethics laws.

“How do we in South Carolina handle conflicts of interest when it comes to a senator and if they have a piece of legislation that they have a conflict with,” he questioned.

“If a particular senator is in a subcommittee meeting or in a committee meeting, they are required if a bill comes up to disclose at the time the bill comes up, either in writing or they can do it verbally at the meeting, that they believe they have a conflict of interest with that bill,” he continued. “They are not allowed to actually vote, but they can be part of the discussion, but they can only be part of the discussion after they have disclosed their conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest.”

The director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission said while structure and laws already exist to help create balance between elected officials and conflicts of interest, the office faces administrative challenges with the execution of the process.

“We do look to ethics in state government to have that type of education available. But our particular constitutional mission is to right the law, investigate and when necessary, prosecute,” said director Ashley Kemp. “But where we’re finding difficulties is the resources to educate, the resources to provide that specialized knowledge, the resources propose solutions to be able to resolve them.”

Andy Moore, who started the bipartisan group, Let’s Fix This to help Oklahomans engage with government said corruption is a pressing issue he hears from voters on both sides.

“We have a lot of work to do in our country to repair that sense of trust to and to restore the ethics to public office and to show Oklahomans that the government they have is one that they deserve that strives to be the most ethical, the most transparent,” he said. “I think Oklahomans in general are hungry for change.”

Senator Kirt said the research from the study could be used to propose future legislation.

View the full meeting online.