After Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, raised questions about whether House Speaker Scott Bedke had a conflict of interest in the requested $8 million transfer to the Legislative Legal Defense Fund, Bedke left the speaker’s chair, letting Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, take over, and spoke at length from the floor.
“It’s no secret to anyone within the sound of my voice that the state has a pending issue with the IEN,” he said. “This appropriation and that exposure that the state has is somewhat grey. This amount of money, while it’s vague in number, allows for the process to continue as settlement talks are pursued. I go forward with my eyes wide open. I know that I represent you as I do this. And because of that representation, I don’t do it lightly, nor will I do it without good legal advice to the Nth degree, if a settlement is reached.”
He said if a settlement is reached that is “advantageous to the state,” it would be presented to the state Board of Examiners for their approval; that consists of the governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State.
The appropriation, he said, “not in the notion of slush fund, not in the notion of anything pejorative or underhanded, but just the opposite of that, above-board. In the process of this, I’ve been gagged by the court, I’ve been un-gagged by the court. … I’m in the phase where I can speak about it, and I think it’s in the state’s best interest to pursue settlement.”
He said the other option is to continue to fight the case in court, then end up having to pay. “There’s no political exposure to anyone that way – we can blame it on the court,” Bedke said. He said settling instead could be “a proper and prudent use of the taxpayers dollars. This appropriation would allow us to pursue those things. It doesn’t mean that we will pull the trigger.”
He added, “That’s all this does. There’s no, we seem to want to try to color this in an under-handed way, and that is complete folly and antithetical to everything that I stand for as a legislator. ... If you want to purse this, then you would vote yes, and if you don’t, then you would vote no.”
The bill, SB 1428, then passed on a 54-15 vote; Scott voted yes. The appropriation bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.