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Mon., Jan. 21, 2013, 12:58 p.m.

House panel introduces revised ethics rule, includes standing Ethics Committee

The House Judiciary, Rules & Administration Committee has voted unanimously to introduce legislation amending the House’s ethics rule, Rule 76, to establish a permanent, standing Ethics Committee, rather than just have one appointed when a complaint is made. The new rule was developed behind closed doors in the House Majority Caucus, but Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said GOP lawmakers came to the minority caucus for their comments and suggestions as well. He congratulated Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, and Fred Wood, R-Burley, for “what I regard as a fair and productive process” to develop the new rule. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, chairman of the committee, responded, "I think that's very important."

The rule, which now will be scheduled for a full hearing in the committee, would establish a five-member ethics committee, to be elected by the majority and minority caucuses; the majority would get three members, the minority two, and the speaker of the House would designate the chairman. Committee members would serve for a term of two years. The rule also adjusts possible penalties against House members accused of ethics violations to include censure both with and without conditions, which Luker said will provide more flexibility to the new committee in settling on appropriate sanctions. Complaints would be confidential until the committee agrees that hearings are merited; then they’d become public. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho House takes up push to revamp ethics panel
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A permanent, five-member House Ethics Committee is slated to replace the chamber's current system of convening temporary committees to consider complaints against sitting representatives in the Idaho Legislature.

That's according to a measure introduced Monday in the House Judiciary & Rules Committee. It's now due a full public hearing.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has been pushing changes since taking office in December.

Rep. Lynn Luker, a Boise Republican who helped draft the measure, says having a permanent panel of three majority and two minority members, rather than the ad hoc seven-member ethics committee that's called up only after a complaint has been lodged, will bolster the group's professionalism and speed up the process of vetting complaints.

"It's so you don't have to go through the process every time there's a new complaint," Luker said.

According to the proposal, each party would choose its own members for the House Ethics Committee.

Complaints could only be filed by representatives and would also initially be confidential, becoming public only after a majority of its members agree that hearings are merited.

Complaints would also be limited to include conduct unbecoming of a representative, disclosure of confidential House information, felonies that involve a lawmaker violating conflict of interest provisions or result in a financial benefit, and any violation of state law or House rules that brings discredit to the chamber.

What's more, House members couldn't be called to account for something they did before taking office.

That would rule out complaints like the one filed in 2010 against then-state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, whose behavior was challenged not only for not paying his state and federal income taxes, but for taking state-owned timber without paying for it in the mid-1990s — long before he was elected in 2004.

"They were under a different obligation at that time," Luker said about the rationale for limiting complaints to after somebody had been elected.

Hart is no longer in the House, having been defeated last year in his bid for re-election.

This new standing committee would fall short of the independent ethics commission that minority Democrats unsuccessfully fought for during the 2012 Legislature. Idaho is among just nine states without such a panel.

Still, Democrats on the House panel, including Rep. Grant Burgoyne, of Boise, sounded a positive note on Monday about the endeavor. Burgoyne said his party's members in the House had been consulted about Luker's proposal and been offered the chance to make suggestions, some of which were adopted.

Judiciary & Rules Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, was optimistic that bipartisan support of Luker's proposal would ultimately add integrity to the new committee.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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