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The Oregon Government Ethics Commission started testing a new online system this week that will allow public officials, from city councilors to the governor, to electronically file their financial interest disclosures.

It is the latest round of testing for the new system, which the Oregon Government Ethics Commission plans to launch Jan. 1 for all public officials, lobbyists and their clients.

Ten lobbyists and 11 of their clients already participated in a test this fall in which they used the new system to file their quarterly spending reports, Oregon Government Ethics Commission executive director Ron Bersin told lawmakers on the Joint Subcommittee On General Government Monday. Lawmakers held interim meetings in Salem this week. Bersin’s report was part of the Legislature’s practice of requesting status updates ahead of the launch dates for major technology projects, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

“The agency received positive feedback from the pilot participants on the ease of use of the system,” Bersin said, referring to the lobbyists and clients.

Lobbyists and their clients currently file spending disclosures on paper forms in Oregon, and public officials also use paper forms to file financial interest disclosures which list their sources of income. The new system will allow the public to search lobbying spending data and view public records for free online. The system will also be free for lobbyists, their clients and public officials to use.

The state has planned the online filing system since 2007, but it was placed on hold when the Legislature diverted funding to other priorities during the recession. The ethics commission will pay for the system with fees on local and state government agencies. The commission contracted with NIC USA, the company that also has a contract to work on and other state agency websites. NIC USA developed the online lobbyist reporting system for free, and will charge the state an annual subscription fee of $63,500 for access to it.

All lobbyists should be able to register through the online filing system starting Dec. 15, and mid-April will be the first online filing deadline for all public officials’ statements of economic interest and lobbyists’ client spending reports, Bersin said.

“The transparency that’s been requested by Oregonians will become available immediately to the public upon these first filing of lobbyist client reports and statements of economic interest in April 2016,” Bersin said. “The system will usher in a new level of transparency for Oregonians.”

The ethics commission has a small staff and Bersin said rather that lay off employees who have been processing paperwork, he plans to reassign those employees to audit the information reported through the new system.

Committee co-chair Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner said he was pleased to hear the new filing system is on time and under budget.

“Thank you and well done,” Smith said to Bersin.

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