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Eye On Boise

House Ethics Committee sets Dec. 13 meeting on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee to look into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, will meet on Dec. 13 at 11 a.m., its chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said today. "We're going to have our first meeting to determine whether or not to go further, to look at the nature of the accusations," Loertscher said. The panel also will consult with Brian Kane of the Idaho Attorney General's office on legal questions and "whether or not it warrants further investigation," Loertscher said.

He noted that two of the three charges raised in a complaint against Hart from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, deal with topics also raised in an earlier complaint from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion. Those have to do with Hart's fights against back state and federal income taxes and his repeated invoking of legislative privilege to win delays in his personal tax fights. The panel dismissed the charges in Rusche's complaint, but voted unanimously to recommend that Hart be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he pursues his personal income tax cases; Speaker Lawerence Denney followed that recommendation after Hart requested he do so.

While Rusche's complaint suggested conflicts of interest between Hart's votes on tax legislation and his tax fights, Anderson's focuses on a possible violation of Hart's oath of office. However, Loertscher said, "Two of these charges are the same thing we already resolved. That's an easy one - you don't get a second bite at the apple. I'm assuming the committee will take a look at that and say that's all taken care of." The third charge, regarding Hart's theft of timber from state endowment land in 1996 to use in building his home, is new, Loertscher said. On that charge, he said, if the panel decides to proceed further, it'll need to provide notice to Hart and a chance to respond, and conduct an investigation. "We'll go from there," Loertscher said.

Anderson said, "I'm glad that there's finally been a date set for a hearing."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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