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First ethics panel in 15 years

History was made in the Idaho Senate today, as a six-senator ethics committee convened to consider a complaint against Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna. Noble introduced a bill to rewrite a section of state liquor laws to permit his own convenience store to sell liquor, even though it’s across the street from an elementary school, without revealing that he was bringing the bill on his own behalf.

Under mounting pressure, Noble submitted the complaint himself, writing, “I wish to clear my name.”

On the floor of the Senate, shortly before the panel convened, Noble launched a semi-coherent attack against Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey, whose reporting on the issue brought it to light.

“I want you to know … his objective is to bring or sow discord amongst this body,” Noble told the Senate. “Mr. Popkey wrote a story … less than half a truth so help him God,” Noble said. “I just hope that each and every one of you will think about it, look at it.”

Noble faced TV cameras as he left the Senate, and he insisted that the bill he introduced wouldn’t have allowed his Melba convenience store, Jacksmart, to get a liquor license, because he said he could get one right now. He claimed his store is 500 feet away from the elementary school across the street.

That would have been the result of SB 1085, which would have redefined how distance is measured between liquor stores and elementary schools. Current law says liquor can’t be sold within 300 feet of a school. Though it’s only about 40 feet across the street, Noble’s bill would have required measuring from entrance door to entrance door, thus resulting in the longer distance.

Noble said, “I decided to author this in order to clear it up, so that the liquor dispensary was no longer defining it as they liked.”

He told reporters that his wife was looking into obtaining the liquor license for the store when he drafted the bill. “I was not involved,” he said. “My wife, she looked into it.”

Then, he said, after he’d presented the bill and it’d been killed, his wife told him she’d decided against seeking a liquor license because it wasn’t worth the hassle. Noble said he’ll never get a liquor license for his store.

A few minutes later, the six-member ethics committee convened. It is chaired by Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and also includes Sens. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; Kate Kelly, D-Boise; Bert Marley, D-McCammon; Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian; and John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Goedde said, “It’s one of those responsibilities that you assume when asked. It’s not a pleasant task.”

After its investigation, the committee could recommend dismissing the ethics charge against Noble, reprimanding him, censure, or expulsion from the Senate. Expulsion from the Senate would take a two-thirds vote.

Idaho passed its Ethics in Government Act in 1990. Violation is a civil offense with a fine of up to $500. Criminal charges could be pursued only after the Senate took its action.

The last time the Senate had an ethics committee, it was in 1990, when Sen. Larrey Anderson filed a complaint against Sen. John Peavey for going through his mail. Peavey had taken Anderson’s large bulk-mailing into his office to count it, and complained that it violated Senate mailing rules by including more than 400 letters. That ethics committee found no violation either by Peavey or Anderson.

Said Goedde, “This is potentially a different magnitude.”

The Idaho House also convened an ethics panel in 1990, which resulted in the censure of then-Rep. Ray Infanger for threatening a state agency’s funding if the agency didn’t grant his son an electrical contracting license.


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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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