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Idaho Dems, GOP to work together on ethics bill

Thu., Jan. 12, 2012, 10:17 a.m.

BOISE - Idaho Democrats unveiled draft legislation setting up a new independent state ethics commission today, and they also announced that they’ve agreed with GOP leaders to set up a working group, with lawmakers from both parties and both houses, to agree on a bipartisan bill within the next couple of weeks.

Both House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill confirmed the agreement.

“I believe we must maintain and grow public trust in government,” declared Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, who said she began working on the bill in the fall. “My intent was to keep it simple, easy to use and low-cost. I am pleased to say that Speaker Denney also recognizes the importance of the idea and will collaborate with us.”

Idaho’s new ethics commission would be independent and nonpartisan. In King’s current draft, it would review complaints from anyone about any public official, but would keep them confidential unless it determined they had merit; at that point, the commission would publish a report and refer the complaint to the appropriate agency for action, in the case of ethical issues, or to prosecutors, in the case of criminal violations.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “What’s wrong with the way things are is that people don’t trust us, they don’t trust us. They don’t trust us to manage our own behavior. So this is an attempt to restore that trust.”

Denney said his initial reaction to the Democratic draft was that there should be some way to limit or discourage frivolous complaints, and that a provision including complaints about waste of public funds was probably too broad. “In some people’s minds, that what we do is waste public funds,” he said with a chuckle. “We don’t want to outlaw the Legislature.” But overall, Denney said he and the minority aren’t far apart on the setup of a commission. He also said he’d like representatives of the Attorney General’s office and the governor’s office to participate in the working group, “so we’re all on the same page.”

Said Hill, “We are all concerned about good government and ethics in government, so I’m very pleased that both the House and the Senate are willing to approach it on a bipartisan basis.”

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