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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Our View: Idaho House speaker stifling disclosure efforts

A month ago, Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney took a popular bill advocating personal financial disclosure for lawmakers and sat on it. It hasn’t seen the light of day since. It hasn’t mattered that it sailed through the Senate on a unanimous vote. It hasn’t mattered that it was fine with the governor.

Denney simply would not budge, and now the issue is dead for another year. Why?

Well, that’s also a secret, or so it seems, because all he has uttered on the topic are coy and cryptic remarks.

The bill would bring Idaho in line with 47 other states that require lawmakers to disclose basic financial information so the public can be assured that they’re not shopping bills out of self-interest.

As disclosure laws go, this one wouldn’t have been particularly strong, but it was a step in the right direction.

It would have required an annual report of income sources and employers of state elected officials or legislators and their spouses, plus a listing of major Idaho assets. No dollar amounts are mandated and sources of income below $10,000 are exempt. The same information would have to be supplied by candidates within 30 days of filing for office.

The constituency opposing this is unsurprisingly dinky, but it just so happens that its members control the passage of bills. Even then, state senators approved this measure after years of balking, and that’s partly explained by the fact that one of their own, Jack Noble, R-Kuna, ultimately resigned after a 2005 scandal.

Noble introduced a bill that would have made his convenience store, located across the street from an elementary school, eligible for a state liquor license. He did not disclose that he might have benefited.

If Idahoans are suspicious about Denney’s failure to put the bill up for debate – let alone a vote – they can’t be blamed.

Denney’s weak response doesn’t calm fears: “The Senate and the governor worked on it, but the House wasn’t included,” he said Tuesday. “I think it’s an issue that’s not ripe on the House side yet.”

That fails to explain why the issue could not be debated. What, precisely, is wrong with disclosure? Denney could have involved the House if he were interested. Instead, he played a game of hide the bill.

Meanwhile, the public is plenty ripe for transparency in government. Idaho’s Sunshine Law was enacted in 1974, with 77 percent of voters approving. It calls for disclosure in lobbying and campaigning.

It’s not a huge leap from there to discern that voters would want to know that lawmakers are working in the public’s interest rather than their own.

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