Democrats roll out proposal for independent ethics panel
BOISE – While unveiling their draft legislation setting up a new independent state ethics commission Thursday, Democrats in the Idaho Legislature said they hope to have a bipartisan bill within two weeks.
They’ve agreed to set up a working group with lawmakers from both parties and both houses to craft that bill.
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,” said state 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.”
The ethics commission — Idaho is among just nine states that don’t already have one — would be independent and nonpartisan. In King’s current draft, it would review complaints from anyone about any public official, but would keep the complaints confidential unless the commission determined they had merit. In those cases, the commission would publish a report and in the case of ethical issues, refer the complaint to the appropriate agency for action; in the case of criminal violations, the referral would go to prosecutors.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “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’s 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.”