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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

House State Affairs votes 9-8 to introduce bipartisan inspector general bill

The House State Affairs Committee has voted 9-8 to introduce bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, and Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, to create an office of inspector general to receive and investigate complaints of waste, fraud or corruption in government in Idaho.

“Currently, there’s nowhere for an employee or another who has concern about fraud, waste or misuse to take the complaint,” Rusche told the panel. The new office would be in the state Board of Examiners, and would have just the inspector general, who would serve a six-year term, and one support staffer; the estimated cost next year is $250,000.

“When I last checked, 19 states had inspector generals, often housed in the governor’s office,” Rusche told the committee. Many were for specific departments, but seven states had a “wide scope as is envisioned here.” He said, “To avoid conflicts between the branches of government, the judiary and the Legislature are not included within the scope of the inspector general’s office.”

Luker said, “I’d just like to say that in my time here in the Legislature, I’ve had a number of citizens both in the government and outside who have had concerns and complaints, and have had no place to go, and frankly I had no place to send them. This is a service to the people that elect us, it’s a service to every Idahoan to make sure that our government is functioning in a prudent and transparent manner.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “We’ll have five people, then we’ll have 10 people, then we’ll have 50, and pretty soon we’ll have 300. That’s how bureaucracy works.”

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said, “We’re going to create a bureaucracy, and anyone here who thinks we’re not has not paid attention to what’s going on around here. We can’t control the budgets. They always grow. ... A few years ago we ran out of money because the economy was bad and we were able to slow it down, but guess what, it’s back, and it’s growing.” He added, “I think we have 105 of us here that should be inspector generals. I know that every time there’s somebody leaning on a shovel in the state of Idaho with an orange vest I get a phone call, and I find out what department it is, and I call them. ... I think that that’s our job.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he thought the idea smacked of a “star chamber,” and worried it would try to go after crimes before they’re committed, citing the movie “Minority Report.”

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the committee chairman, said, “The chair would just commend the sponsors for bringing this forward. One of the intriguing things to me is the fact that you’ve included local government entities that are going to be watched over. We’ve had some problems in some parts of the state and this could be very helpful in resolving some of those.”

Those voting in favor of introducing the bill – clearing the way for a hearing – were Reps. Loertscher, Batt, Luker, Bateman, Nielsen, Smith, Jordan, McCrostie and Wintrow. Those voting against were Reps. Andrus, Crane, Palmer, Sims, Barbieri, Holtzclaw, McMillan and Cheatham.

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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