Eye On Boise

House Ethics Committee to hold first closed meeting; here's why

The House Ethics Committee has scheduled an executive session meeting for tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. This is a change - heretofore, all proceedings and documents of the ethics committee have been open to the public, a point emphasized by the chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. The change comes at the urging of House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who notes that House Rule 57 specifically permits a committee to go into executive session - a closed session, excluding the public - for preliminary review of an ethics complaint.

The committee has two complaints before it for preliminary review, both submitted by citizens, not by House members; one is from North Idaho political activist Larry Spencer targeting Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; the other is from Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths, questioning Rep. Phil Hart's participation in a legislative meeting with judges at which the same judge before which he's arguing his state income tax appeal was among the presenters. The executive session can't include any discussion of a pending ethics complaint filed by Anderson against Hart; the committee already has voted to move beyond the preliminary investigation stage on that complaint.

The Idaho Attorney General's office has advised lawmakers that House ethics rules, which outline procedures for complaints, apply only to House members, not to the general public - so not just anyone can submit a complaint. Denney said if the committee finds the issues in the citizen-initiated complaints valid, he figures a House member will file a complaint to allow review.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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