May 5, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho speaker kills Sunshine Law expansion

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, shown here in his office at the Capitol Annex, has unilaterally decided to kill legislation to expand Idaho’s Sunshine Law.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Idaho’s speaker of the House has decided to unilaterally kill legislation to expand Idaho’s Sunshine Law, which would have ended the state’s distinction as one of just three states with no personal financial disclosure requirements for elected officials or candidates.

“The Senate and the governor worked on it, but the House wasn’t included,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. “I think it’s an issue that’s not ripe on the House side yet.”

The bill, SB 1156, passed the Idaho Senate unanimously on April 2. The next day, Denney ordered it held at his desk rather than assigning it to any House committee for a hearing; it’s there still.

“I’d even forgot it was there,” Denney told The Spokesman-Review. “Maybe during the interim some House members will get together and decide what they can live with in a bill like that.”

The measure would have required elected officials and candidates to disclose their sources - though not amounts - of income, and their major Idaho assets, including real estate.

Idaho’s Sunshine Law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974 - with 77 percent of voters backing it - requires campaign finance reporting and lobbyist disclosure. But the state never added disclosure of personal finances for elected officials or candidates.

Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, who co-sponsored the bill with Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, said, “It’s disappointing, of course. … I do think there there are a lot of members of the House of Representatives who would be supportive.”

Nevertheless, Kelly, D-Boise, said the bill went further this year than it ever has before. “I consider it progress,” she said.

Davis, too, said he was “disappointed.” Davis and Kelly worked with Gov. Butch Otter on the bill; his chief legal counsel, David Hensley, helped draft it.

“I appreciate the governor’s help in trying to fashion a bill that provides for the pre-disclosure of conflicts, and this bill did that,” Davis said. “I believe that the citizens of the state of Idaho want either that piece of legislation or something similar to it.”

He added, “It would have been nice to have understood publicly why the House does not support the legislation, if they do not support the legislation. I guess we’ll not know this year.”

Davis said he’ll continue to push for the legislation “in subsequent years.”

Though Otter endorsed and worked on the bill, the governor’s office declined to comment on its demise Tuesday. “It’s the first we’ve heard of it,” said Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian.

In 2007, the Center for Public Integrity gave Idaho an “F” for its financial disclosure requirements, while awarding Washington an “A.”

In November of 2008, a national survey by the Chicago-based Better Government Association ranked Idaho 44th in the nation on an “integrity index,” for governmental integrity, openness and accountability, in part because of Idaho’s lack of financial disclosure requirements. That survey showed Idaho tied for worst in the nation for its conflict of interest laws, while Washington was ranked the best.


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