Idaho rep’s parking meter bill came after son’s car towed

BOISE - Idaho’s House transportation chairman, who successfully pushed a bill through the House last week to shut off parking meters around the state Capitol during legislative sessions, didn’t disclose that his 24-year-old son has gotten numerous parking tickets in the area and had his car towed on the first day of this year’s legislative session.

Instead, Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, told the House, “The reason I’m bringing this bill is because I had a constituent come to me.”

After city records obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law revealed the towing and numerous tickets incurred during or just before the legislative session by Ty Palmer, three of which remain unpaid, Palmer was asked by a reporter if the constituent in question was his son. He had a one-word answer: “No.”

Asked if he thought he should have mentioned his son’s situation when introducing his bill in the Transportation Committee and on the floor of the House, Palmer said he thought he’d been clear enough. “You know what? There’s not a bill on this floor I vote for that won’t have some sort of effect on me,” he said. “We’re a citizen Legislature - it’s ridiculous.”

House Speaker Lawerence Denney backed Palmer up. “I don’t think that crosses that ethical line,” he said. “He did announce that he’s gotten tickets - I’ve gotten tickets.”

Denney said, “What impact does that have on the bill? Yeah, so his son got tickets and his vehicle was towed, but the intention of Rep. Palmer was to try to increase access by his constituents to the Statehouse.”

Opponents of the bill, however, including the city of Boise, which operates the meters, said it would have the opposite effect: With no parking meters forcing turnover, people arriving at the Capitol for hearings would find all nearby spaces taken up all day by earlybirds.

The issue comes as Idaho lawmakers struggle this year with proposed ethics reforms; a bipartisan working group of senators and representatives held four weeks of meetings without arriving at agreement on new legislation for an independent ethics commission.

Denney said he’s still in talks with other legislative leaders, from both parties, about ethics bills, and expects some to move forward this year. “We are going to discuss that in joint leadership today,” he said.

Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, expressed hope at the start of the session that Idaho could look at an independent ethics commission, something 41 states have but Idaho lacks; the state’s first financial disclosure requirements for public officials, which only a handful of states including Idaho lack; a one-year delay before lawmakers or other public officials could register as lobbyists; and a whistleblower hotline for state employees.

“I think there’s a couple of those that we might decide to move ahead with,” Denney said.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Restoring confidence is what this whole ethics goal is.”

Rusche said he had no specific comments on Rep. Palmer’s actions. “It is a citizen Legislature, and we all bring in our history and experiences,” he said. “But in order to have people believe that when we’re here, we’re acting in their best interest, I think we have to be more open.”

Palmer’s son, Ty, has been an active follower of the legislative session, and this year is sponsoring a bill, HB 515, with Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, to ban state agencies from making more than 10 paper copies of their annual report or strategic plan. Palmer testified to the House State Affairs Committee on the bill; the measure, HB 515, is currently awaiting amendments.

Ty Palmer received six Capitol-area parking tickets in 2011 between Jan. 3 and April 7, according to city records; April 7 was the last day of the 2011 legislative session. So far this year, he’s received three since the Jan. 9 towing, all of which remain outstanding.

The elder Palmer said a hearing on a fire marshal bill three years ago was when he heard complaints from constituents about Capitol-area parking. “There were people testifying who were mad as hell,” he said.

The city of Boise tows cars for unpaid parking tickets only after a vehicle owner accumulates five or more open citations more than 30 days old, or more than $200 in parking citations over 30 days old.

Palmer introduced his bill, HB 480, in the committee he chairs on Feb. 6, four weeks to the day after his son’s car was towed.

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