May 6, 2009 in Idaho

Sunshine expansion shelved

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

No gas deal yet

Senate and House Republican leaders returned from a meeting with Gov. Butch Otter with this message: They’re still talking, but there’s no resolution to an impasse over Idaho’s gas tax.

Otter and many senators want to raise $52 million annually to repair roads; the House, which has dumped six previous proposals to boost Idaho’s 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax, says a recession isn’t the time to do it. House Speaker Lawerence Denney said: “There’s no solution yet.”

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner says this was the first meeting between the governor and GOP majority leadership of both chambers in several days. Another meeting is set for 1 p.m. today. The House reconvened this week after adjourning unilaterally last week. That could happen again, if this isn’t resolved.

Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho’s speaker of the House unilaterally killed legislation to expand Idaho’s Sunshine Law, which would have ended the state’s distinction as one of 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 April 2. The next day, Denney ordered it held at his desk rather than assigning it to a 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 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 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,” said Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “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. 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 state 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.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise go to www.spokesman.com/boise.

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