January 18, 2012 in Idaho

Democrats list key ethics proposals

Idaho’s House speaker says he is open to ideas
By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Minority Democrats in the Idaho Legislature announced three new ethics reform proposals Tuesday and called on Republicans to work with them on the bills – and the Republicans agreed.

The Democrats called for requiring financial disclosure from public and elected officials in the state, something only Idaho and two other states lack; a bill to impose a one-year wait before former lawmakers or other public officials could register as lobbyists; and a whistleblower hotline law for state employees.

The proposals came on the heels of the Democrats’ call for Idaho to create an independent ethics commission; GOP leaders agreed, and both sides have formed a bipartisan working group to draft a consensus bill.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill both said they’d like the working group to also consider the three issues Democrats highlighted.

“I think the working group ought to discuss those things, see if they can come up with suggestions,” Hill said. “I’d just encourage it.”

Denney said he’s open to the ideas, including the one-year lobbying restriction. “I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “Let’s hear it.”

Idaho has had recent notable incidents of public officials turning to lobbying. The governor’s former chief of staff is now walking the Statehouse halls as a lobbyist for Idaho Power Co. and the Corrections Corp. of America, and the former deputy director of the state Department of Insurance signed on to lobby this year for one of the state’s largest insurance companies, Regence BlueShield, after years of regulating the firm.

In 2007, Denney came under fire after he recommended that a California developer dump its lobbyist, with whom Denney had a political dispute, and instead hire a former member of House GOP leadership who had just switched to lobbying.

Democratic leaders noted that they’ve been pushing for ethics reforms since 2005, but nothing’s passed. In 2009, the Idaho Senate unanimously passed a financial disclosure bill, but Denney blocked it from coming up for a hearing in the House.

He said Tuesday that he didn’t like that measure because it exempted some people from its requirements. He’s been vocal about wanting lawmakers who are lawyers to reveal their legal clients if other lawmakers must divulge their assets and income.

Democrats said their new financial disclosure bill is more stringent than the 2009 measure.

Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said Tuesday, “The ethics commission is only the first critical step in the right direction. Idaho still lags significantly behind other states in demonstrating to people that we value integrity so much that we make it the law of the land.”

He said Idahoans are losing trust in their lawmakers. “The need … has never been greater, and the time for reform is now,” he said.

The working group, with two members from each party from each house, may begin meeting as soon as this morning.


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