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Kelso’s defense: Bill wasn’t just pointed at Hart

Here’s attorney Starr Kelso’s defense of Rep. Phil Hart’s vote on HB 436, regarding not letting non-filers file again later by adjusting a statute of limitations: “No 1, it applies to all Idaho taxpayers,” he said. “It was a Tax Commission bill. And speaking with Mr. Shaner, i asked him specifically, was it the purpose and intent of the Tax Commission in putting forth this bill to address Mr. Hart. The answer was of course not. There are a number of people with situations like this.” Plus, he said the bill is aimed at those who want to claim refunds. “Mr Hart probably would say to you he wished he was in a position where he was asking for a refund. It doesn’t apply to him at all.”

Rep. Tom Loertscher asked Shaner how many non-filers Idaho has; he didn’t have figures.

New issue comes up at Ethics Committee: Hart voted on tax bill killed in tie

A new issue has been raised by the Ethics Committee with regard to Rep. Phil Hart. HB 436, which would have prevented taxpayers who hadn’t filed returns in a past year from filing later to address those years by adjusting a statute of limitations, is directly applicable to Hart’s case; the state Tax Commission ruled that he didn’t file for the tax years 1996, 1997 and 1998. Rep. Tom Loertscher, committee chairman, called it “a very interesting piece of legislation.” Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said, “There appears to be an issue with regard to whether or not Rule 38 was invoked.”

Erick Shaner, deputy attorney general, told the committee, “This particular piece of legislation would have affected his ability to address those particular years in regard to his subsequent filing … on his behalf.” The bill died on a tied vote in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, and Hart voted against it without revealing any conflict. The bill was proposed by the state Tax Commission.

Kelso: ‘Issue was raised by Mr. Hart’

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, questioned Starr Kelso, Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, about why he submitted legal documents to the state in Hart’s tax appeal stating that the issue of legislative privilege was “being considered by legislative leaders,” and whether Kelso sought that consideration, whether it occurred during a legislative session, and what form it took. Kelso said, “The issue was raised by Mr. Hart to, I believe, the speaker. We were waiting for the response. To my knowledge, there really was no response.”

Loertscher: ‘No legislator has a personal agenda’

Rep. Tom Loertscher, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, responded to vice-chair Rep. Wendy Jaquet’s comments, saying, “I don’t think there’s any legislator that has a personal agenda.” Lawmakers “tend to find issues that they are passionate about,” he said. That doesn’t mean they have conflicts of interest.

Jaquet: ‘Why we’re here’

Members of the Ethics Committee had a few questions about the complaint and charges against Rep. Phil Hart. Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “It looks like to me it’s extremely vague.” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, responded, “We have an obligation as a body to … represent what is good about Idaho, that we follow the rules and don’t break laws. … I think the reason we are here today is to determine, rather than having the media determine,” whether that’s occurred. “We probably need to invoke Rule 38 more often,” she said, to disclose conflicts of interest. “The representative has some issues in the state and with the federal government, and … that may not be reflective of how our constituents would like to see us. I think we’re held to a higher standard.”

She added that the committee must look at if “the gentleman is using his ability as a legislator basically to further his agenda and to participate in a way that our constituents do not feel is appropriate. I think that’s why we’re here.” She noted that Hart voted on tax rules, introduced a personal bill to eliminate the state income tax, and voted on a silver bill when he’s been involved with a company manufacturing silver Liberty Dollars. Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, then told the committee that Hart severed his relationship with that company in 2006.

Loertscher: Hart never declared a conflict of interest during 2010 legislative session

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, opened the House Ethics Committee hearing by noting that there is a “live proceeding” right now on the issue of whether Rep. Phil Hart improperly invoked legislative privilege in his state income tax case. “We know that there is a live proceeding right now on this very issue,” Loertscher said, referring to Hart’s appeal to the state Board of Tax Appeals. “We would be interfering with an ongoing court case, which is a dangerous place to be. … We don’t want to cloud the issue one way or the other.” So for today, the committee will avoid that issue, Loertscher said.

On the question of conflict of interest, Loertscher noted that the committee has received documents from the Attorney General’s office noting that in the past legislative session, “Mr. Hart not at any time having declared Rule 38,” Hart never disclosed a conflict of interest on any issue in the Legislature.

House ethics committee about to open Hart hearing

The House Ethics Committee is getting ready to start its meeting this morning to look into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. A handful of Hart supporters are in the audience, wearing pink paper hearts with the slogan, “Protect Idaho’s Hart.” To listen live to the proceedings, go to the Legislature’s website here, and click on the link under “announcements.”

EOB: Hart to testify to ethics committee

The House Ethics Committee has released its agenda for its Thursday meeting regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; you can see it here. Hart is scheduled to testify. More here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Hart scheduled to testify to ethics committee

The House Ethics Committee has released its agenda for its Thursday meeting regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; you can see it here. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the state Capitol with discussion of constitutional provisions and House rules, then include a review of the formal ethics complaint against Hart and of his written response, followed by additional comments and testimony from Hart himself. That’s scheduled to be followed by committee discussion and action. Audio from the meeting will be streamed live on the Internet; the meeting will be in the Capitol’s garden level, east wing, room 40.

EOB: Hart cast deciding votes on tax rules

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, who has big tax disputes pending over back state and federal income taxes, sat on a three-member legislative subcommittee this year that reviewed new state tax rules for all Idaho taxpayers, and he cast the deciding vote on two of them. Those included a new rule for how the state Tax Commission should handle settlements of more than $50,000 in income tax liability - at a time when Hart was facing an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart never mentioned his case or declared a conflict of interest. More here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Hart cast deciding votes on state tax rules

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, who has big tax disputes pending over back state and federal income taxes, sat on a three-member legislative subcommittee this year that reviewed new state tax rules for all Idaho taxpayers, and he cast the deciding vote on two of them. Those included a new rule for how the state Tax Commission should handle settlements of more than $50,000 in income tax liability - at a time when Hart was facing an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart never mentioned his case or declared a conflict of interest.
 
A special House Ethics Committee is currently looking into whether Hart had conflicts of interest in the Legislature due to his tax problems, and whether he abused the legislative privilege from arrest or civil process during sessions by invoking it repeatedly to win delays in his state and federal tax cases. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who served with Hart on the subcommittee, tried to get two new income tax rules killed because he thought they were too lenient on tax scofflaws. “I would’ve loved to have Phil’s support, because we could’ve defeated the rule,” Burgoyne said. “I had several concerns about it. … I generally take the view that people who get away with not paying their taxes make chumps out of the rest of us.”

Hart said today that he saw no conflict, because his own case had already progressed past the point of a possible settlement. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Also, Hart today sent out a guest editorial entitled “Tax Reform for Idaho,” in which he called for eliminating the income tax. “A tax on wages and salaries is a tax on our right to exist.  It is the feudal system of the old world,” he writes. “We threw off the old world system in 1776, but it crept back in.  Today, it is time to do it again.” You can read his piece here.

Hart To Seek End Of State Income Tax

The northern Idaho lawmaker at the center of a House ethics investigation hopes to introduce legislation next year that would eliminate the state income tax on wages and salaries. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said his proposal would bring Idaho’s tax code back in line with what the income tax was originally intended to be: a tax on business and investment profits, rather than on wages. “This issue is fundamental to Idaho’s (economic) revitalization,” Hart said. “I don’t think our economy is going to recover until we figure out how to bring jobs back from overseas. We can’t do anything about that at the state level, but we can make Idaho more attractive than the other 49 states”/William Spence, SR. More here.

Question: What do you make of plans by embattled Rep. Phil Hart to introduce legislation to eliminate the state income tax?

Hart: Ethics Panel Has Conflict

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is being investigated by a group of his peers on a House Ethics Committee regarding his actions in using his status as a state lawmaker to avoid legal proceedings associated with recent tax woes.  That panel, called for by House Minority Leader Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, is being aided in the process by Brian Kane, a deputy assistant in the attorney general’s office.  Hart told IdahoReporter.com recently that Kane’s presence advising the panel is a conflict of interest and a breach of constitutional protocol because one of the agencies in litigation with Hart also uses legal counsel from the attorney general’s office/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here. (Idaho Reporter photo of Phil Hart)

Question: Hmm. Hart may have a point here. What do you think?

Hart Looks Forward To Being ‘Cleared’

On Twitter, embattled Idaho Rep. Phil Hart has just posted this comment, plus 2 documents: “I thought it would be beneficial for anyone who so chooses, to be able to see the actual documents surrounding the House Ethics Committee and the alleged abuse of my legislative office. The charges are vague and frankly so vague they are difficult to answer. You can see both documents below. I stand firm that I never abused any privilege available to me as an Idaho Representative and I look forward to a thorough investigation and being cleared of these charges.”

Reaction?

Rep. Phil Hart Now On Twitter

For those keeping score at home, Rep. Phil Hart is now on Twitter — and, yes, I’m one of his 5 current followers. (Update (for those keeping score at home): 5 reporters & an enviro are now following Phil Hart’s Twitter here)

  • Question: Do you think it’s wise for Rep. Phil Hart to Twitter, given his sensitive situation w/the IRS, Idaho Tax Commission, and House Ethics Committee?

Hart’s Tax Woes Add Up To $700K

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems appear to be worse than previously disclosed. When federal tax liens filed against Hart’s various business entities are combined with the hundreds of thousands in liens the IRS has filed against him personally in his ongoing fight over back income taxes, the third-term Idaho lawmaker faces a total of more than $644,000 in outstanding federal tax liens. A state income tax judgment against him that he’s attempting to appeal pushes that total up to nearly $700,000/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Reaction?

Rep. Hart’s tax woes add up to $700K

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems appear to be worse than previously disclosed. When federal tax liens filed against Hart’s various business entities are combined with the hundreds of thousands in liens the IRS has filed against him personally in his ongoing fight over back income taxes, the third-term Idaho lawmaker faces a total of more than $644,000 in outstanding federal tax liens. A state income tax judgment against him that he’s attempting to appeal pushes that total up to nearly $700,000.

Hart, who’s facing a state ethics inquiry over the use of his legislative position in his tax fight, said he doesn’t understand how the authorities could think he owes that much. “I don’t even know if I’ve made that much in that period of time,” he said, “so the tax rate must be 100 percent or something.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, plus see the documents.

Hart: My Constituents Back Me Anyway

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Hart said the constitutional immunity from arrest and civil procedures during a legislative session is intended to be a benefit to the public, not to lawmakers.”It allows legislators to focus on the work of their constituents and not get bogged down with other distractions,” he said. “It’s not a privilege for legislators, but a protection for constituents.”Regarding his position on the tax committee, he said, “the reason we have 105 lawmakers is that we want a variety of opinions. I think I bring a point of view to that committee that’s unique. My constituents know my point of view and choose to send me there.”Hart said he was surprised his battle with the tax commission prompted an ethics complaint. Nevertheless, he plans to cooperate with the investigation and respond to whatever specific charges are raised/William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune

Question: Would Hart be in trouble re: re-election this year, if the Democrats had fielded a candidate to run against him. Or is Hart right in saying, “My constituents know my point of view and choose to see me (to the Legislature)?”

Hart denies ethics charges

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, denied the ethics charges against him Wednesday in a formal response to a special House Ethics Committee, and decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts” and “perceptions.” “I have no hesitancy in accounting for, and defending, all of my actions as an elected representative of District 3,” Hart said in a letter to the committee. “I am, however, concerned that anyone could choose to base an ethics complaints on what ‘appears’ from ‘recent news accounts.’”

Hart is charged with possible abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional protection of lawmakers from arrest or civil service during legislative sessions to seek delays in his federal and state income tax fights, and possible conflict of interest for serving on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while pressing his personal tax fights; the Spokesman-Review reported on Hart’s moves in a series of articles over the past month.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who filed the complaint against Hart, said, “Certainly there’s a difference of opinion, and I’ll leave it to the Ethics Committee to decide on the appropriateness of the behaviors and whether or how they reflect upon the credibility and authority of the House of Representatives.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the complaint against Hart here.

Hart Files Response To Ethics Charges

Phil Hart filed this response with the House Ethics Committee, meeting to discuss his continuing income tax problems: “I want you to know that this part of the process of governance does not minimize the passion I have to serve the people of the 3rd legislative district. I sought this office because I wanted to be in a position to protect our constitutional rights and the liberties of the people. I am seeking re-election now because, with my six years of experience, I feel I can be more effective in attaining those lofty goals. American patriots fight for what is right in the country and reject is what is wrong with the country. This battle for me is no less than fighting for what is right and just in the legislative arena and in the state that I have grown to love. This battle for what is right gives me the opportunity to tell an American story. And tell that story I will.” More from Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise here.

  • Cutline: House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, left, visits with committee members Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, and Bill Killen, D-Boise. (Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise photo)
  • Hart response: You can read Hart’s response in full here.

Question: Satisfied with the response?

Hart: ‘Tell that story I will’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has filed his response to a House Ethics Committee’s charges against him; click here to read his response. In an email with his response, Hart wrote, “I want you to know that this part of the process of governance does not minimize the passion I have to serve the people of the 3rd legislative district. I sought this office because I wanted to be in a position to protect our constitutional rights and the liberties of the people. I am seeking re-election now because, with my six years of experience, I feel I can be more effective in attaining those lofty goals. American patriots fight for what is right in the country and reject is what is wrong with the country. This battle for me is no less than fighting for what is right and just in the legislative arena and in the state that I have grown to love. This battle for what is right gives me the opportunity to tell an American story. And tell that story I will.”

Hart, who is unopposed for re-election, simply denies both the charges in his response - that he abused legislative privilege by invoking it repeatedly to seek delays in his state and federal income tax fights, and that he had a conflict of interest in serving on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing those fights. He also decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts, appearances and perceptions.”

SR: Hart Panel Must Defend Credibility

Hart has battled both state and federal governments over his personal belief that income taxes are unconstitutional. Like uncounted tax protesters before him, he lost those skirmishes – and relied on his legislative privilege to prolong the time he had to appeal beyond the deadline set by law. He was not being harassed by the crown, or the governor, to interfere with his ability to do his legislative duty. While Hart’s tax clashes continue, the ethical questions surrounding his conduct are appropriately before the Ethics Committee. That bipartisan panel’s task is to defend the Legislature’s integrity and sustain the public’s confidence/Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. More here.

Question: What will the recommention by the House Ethics Committee say about the Idaho Legislature?

Trillhaase: Why Is Hart On Rev & Tax?

Eventually State Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, is going to pay his taxes. For now, that’s a matter for the Board of Tax Appeals and/or the courts. The State Tax Commission says he’s behind $53,000. Hart is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Considering he draws a state paycheck and benefits, however, you’d hope the day of reckoning is sooner rather than later. But one has to ask: How did a man with his tax issues first get elected to the Idaho Legislature? And why was he assigned to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee?/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: If House Republican leaders had the audacity to put Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, on the Revenue & Taxation Committee,  should they be able to demand, with straight faces, that ordinary Idahoans pay their state income tax?

HBO Poll: Expel Rep. Phil Hart

  • Tuesday Poll: 100 of 163 respondents (61.3%) said the House Ethics Committee should recommend that Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, be expelled from the Legislature as a result of his ongoing federal and state income tax problems. 38 of 163 (23.3%) said the ethics panel should recommend censure. 8 of 167 (4.9%) want to see Hart reprimanded. Only 17 of 167 (10.4%) want to see charges against Hart dismissed.
  • Today’s Poll: What do you make of the protest to the county fair’s ‘fiesta’ theme by Bonner County Republicans?

Popkey: Phil Hart Is No Jack Noble

A rarely convened special committee began digging Tuesday into allegations that a Kootenai County lawmaker abused his office in his effort to avoid paying his income taxes. The House Ethics Committee investigation is the first time Idaho legislators have scrutinized one of their own since 2005, when a Kuna lawmaker named Jack Noble slipped into ignominy rather than face likely expulsion by the Senate. But today’s villain is not comparable to yesterday’s. The ethical misdeeds of Phil Hart, a Republican from tiny Athol, are not on the same scale as Noble’s. Hart is guilty of petulant politics and conduct embarrassing to colleagues. But based on what we know now, he doesn’t appear to have committed an offense so grave as to bring his fellows to expel him from the Legislature/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you agree w/columnist Dan Popkey that Hart is guilty of “petulant politics and conduct unbecoming to colleagues” — but not of conduct worthy of expulsion?


Hart Plans To Respond To Ethics Panel

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this response today to the convening of the newly appointed House Ethics Committee: “I guess I would say I’m anxious to get through the process, and I’m confident everything’s going to work out OK for me.” Hart said he’s received the formal letter from committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “and I do plan on responding to it”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Hart: ‘I do plan on responding’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this response today to the convening of the newly appointed House Ethics Committee: “I guess I would say I’m anxious to get through the process, and I’m confident everything’s going to work out OK for me.” Hart said he’s received the formal letter from committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “and I do plan on responding to it.”

Ethics panel wants to be ‘completely fair’

The newly convened House Ethics Committee promised a “by the book” investigation into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, during its first meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Click here to read the committee documents - the order appointing the committee, the original complaint, and a statement from the House speaker. Said Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “We want to make sure that we are completely fair in all our deliberations.”

Hart won’t be excluded from hearings

House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher said Rep. Phil Hart asked Speaker Lawerence Denney if he should attend today’s meeting, and Denney checked with Loertscher. “I said we won’t have questions for him today,” Loertscher said. “We will not exclude him from any of the hearings,” Loertscher said. Here is the letter the ethics committee sent to Hart, seeking his formal response to the charges.

Ethics Panel Has 4 Possible Outcomes

The ethics committee has four possible recommendations it can make to the House regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol: Dismissal of the charges; reprimand, which requires a majority vote of House members; censure, which also requires a majority vote of the House; and expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote of the House pursuant to Article 3, Section 11 of the Constitution. Any recommendation also could carry a sanction recommendation, such as removal from certain committees/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Which of the options would you choose for Hart?