BOISE – Idaho’s House transportation chairman, who pushed a bill through the House last week to shut off parking meters around the state Capitol during legislative sessions, didn’t disclose that his 24-year-old son has been issued numerous parking tickets in the area and had his car towed on the first day of this year’s legislative session.
Instead, state Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, told the House, “The reason I’m bringing this bill is because I had a constituent come to me.”
After city records obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law revealed the towing and numerous tickets incurred during or just before the legislative session by Ty Palmer, the representative was asked by a reporter if the constituent he referenced was his son. “No,” he replied.
Palmer said he believed he had been clear enough when introducing his bill. “You know what? There’s not a bill on this floor I vote for that won’t have some sort of effect on me,” he said. “We’re a citizen Legislature – it’s ridiculous.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney backed Palmer. “I don’t think that crosses that ethical line,” he said.
The issue comes as Idaho lawmakers struggle with proposed ethics reforms. A bipartisan group of senators and representatives held four weeks of meetings without arriving at agreement on new legislation for an independent ethics commission.
Denney said he’s still in talks with other legislative leaders about ethics bills and expects some to move forward this year.
Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, expressed hope at the start of the session that Idaho could look at an independent ethics commission, something 41 states have but Idaho lacks. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Restoring confidence is what this whole ethics goal is.”
Rusche said he had no comment on Rep. Palmer’s actions. “It is a citizen Legislature, and we all bring in our history and experiences,” he said. “But in order to have people believe that when we’re here, we’re acting in their best interest, I think we have to be more open.”
Palmer’s son, Ty, has been an active follower of the legislative session, and this year is sponsoring a bill with state Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, to ban state agencies from making more than 10 paper copies of their annual report or strategic plan. Ty Palmer testified to the House State Affairs Committee on the bill, which is currently awaiting amendments.
Ty Palmer received six Capitol-area parking tickets between Jan. 3 and April 7 last year, according to city records; April 7 was the last day of the 2011 legislative session. So far this year, he’s received three since the Jan. 9 towing, all of which remain outstanding.
The elder Palmer said constituent complaints about Capitol-area parking came after a hearing on a fire marshal bill three years ago. “There were people testifying who were mad as hell,” he said.
The city of Boise tows cars for unpaid parking tickets only after a vehicle owner accumulates five or more open citations more than 30 days old, or more than $200 in parking citations over 30 days old.
Palmer introduced his bill, HB 480, in the committee he chairs on Feb. 6, four weeks to the day after his son’s car was towed.
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