January 12, 2012 in Idaho

Democrats to unveil new ethics panel bill

By The Spokesman-Review
 
No ethics commissions

In addition to Idaho, the states that lack independent ethics commissions are Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Virginia, Vermont and New Hampshire.

BOISE – Idaho is one of just nine states with no independent ethics commission, but that may soon change.

Democrats in the Idaho Legislature will unveil a new ethics commission bill this morning, and GOP House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he may end up as a co-sponsor.

“We’re still on board with moving forward,” Denney said late Wednesday. If Democrats want him to co-sponsor, he said, “I’d love to do it.”

The movement follows the path other states have been treading since the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

“It’s a good-government type of thing,” said Peggy Kerns, director of the National Conference of State Legislatures Ethics Center, designed to restore fading public trust in government. “I think Idaho is to be congratulated for attempting it.”

Currently, panels of senators or House members are convened to consider ethics complaints filed against Idaho lawmakers, and only other lawmakers can file them.

“I think that the Legislature would be wise to establish an independent commission,” said David Adler, University of Idaho law professor and director of the UI’s McClure Center for Public Policy. “It’s not as though this is reinventing the wheel, given the fact that most states across the country have in fact established similar independent commissions.”

Adler said when citizens think lawmakers are ignoring their fellow members’ ethical lapses, it undermines the confidence people have in their Legislature. State ethics commissions vary in their powers and staffing levels and no two are alike, Kerns said.

Commissions in 38 states, including Washington, have subpoena power, and those in 20 states can issue orders that are enforceable in court. Washington is among seven states with multiple commissions: the Legislative Ethics Board, the Public Disclosure Commission and the Executive Ethics Board.

Idaho state Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, has been drafting the Idaho bill and said she’s drawn on ideas from numerous other states.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said Democratic lawmakers are coordinating with Denney and will run their drafts by him. “We’re going to lay out what we have and ask if he can sign on, or if not, how we can get to a place where something works,” Rusche said.

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