BOISE - Idaho state Rep. Shannon McMillan, who benefited from an elected-official exemption from wage garnishment by debt collectors, voted against a bill to do away with the exemption last week, without revealing her conflict of interest.
Now McMillan, a second-term Republican from Silverton, has requested the House to convene an ethics committee to look into her actions.
“It is with deepest regret that I rise before you today and offer my sincerest apology,” she told the House on Monday.
McMillan cast one of just two votes against HB 510, legislation to remove Idaho lawmakers’ special exemption from having their wages garnished for state court judgments. According to court records, McMillan has had numerous court judgments against her, including one from North Idaho Credit Corp. that led to a writ of garnishment last summer. McMillan, represented by her son as her attorney, contested the writ on grounds she was exempt. On July 29, court records show, that attempt to garnish wages was dropped because McMillan is an “exempt employee.”
“I humbly rise before you today and declare that I did have a Rule 38 conflict,” McMillan told the House, “and I ask for your forgiveness. I am asking for a House Ethics Committee review of my actions.”
She also promised “to identify future conflicts in a timely manner, and meet the high ethical standards of this body and my fellow members.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, immediately rose to commend McMillan for taking that tough step and acknowledging what occurred.
House ethics rules permit members to vote on an issue in which they have a conflict of interest, but only after they’ve disclosed the conflict. McMillan made no comment last Wednesday when she and Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, cast the only two votes against HB 510. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, is now pending in the Senate.
Morse said the exemption has been on the books since 1939, and it was time to remove it, saying, “Elective officials should not enjoy any rights to avoid paying any debts or their taxes.”
When the bill first was proposed this year in the House State Affairs Committee, Barbieri argued against introducing it, saying, “During the Legislature, we are doing the people’s business,” and shouldn’t “be distracted by such things as this.”
He asked fellow lawmakers to “reflect for a moment on how intense this three months is” and the “emotional drain,” and said, “This exception makes a lot of sense to me.”
He was easily outvoted, however.
The elected official exemption kept tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart’s legislative wages from being garnished for back state taxes, but the exemption didn’t apply to federal garnishments, and the IRS garnished Hart’s entire legislative paycheck. Morse defeated Hart in the 2012 GOP primary.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the House Ethics Committee will convene as requested, and has a variety of options available to it as far as sanctions. “I would compliment Rep. McMillan for recognizing her lapse, and I’m looking forward to speedy closure of this issue with the ethics committee,” he said.
Bedke said the issue came to the attention of House leaders last Friday, and he spoke to McMillan about it on Saturday. “She acknowledged it was an issue,” he said. “So we’re trying to make it right. I think it’s very, very important to Rep. McMillan that she make this right. I think she’s taking the steps to do that.”
McMillan had no comment, other than to refer to her statement in the records of Monday’s House session.
Court records show numerous court judgments against McMillan in Shoshone County, including judgments in favor of Peterson Enterprises, North Idaho Credit Corp., Chapman Financial Services, and Shoshone Adjustment Bureau.
Many are in the name of both McMillan and her late husband, Kenneth, who died in 2011; she missed a portion of that year’s session to care for him, naming Carole Harwood, wife of then-Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, as her temporary replacement in the House. McMillan herself suffered a stroke in 2012.
McMillan represents North Idaho’s Silver Valley, along with a swath of the state that stretches down to Riggins.
She was first elected in 2010, when she defeated longtime Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, who died in November.