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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Will Idaho heed public’s call for ethics legislation?

Is this the year the Idaho Legislature discovers the value of ethics and financial disclosure? Will this be the session where legitimate public distrust in politicians is acknowledged and acted upon?

Stay tuned, because you never know how long lawmakers believe they can ignore the obvious.

Democrats are taking another run at ethics legislation with a trio of reform proposals, and they would appear to have piqued the interest of some Republicans.

First, public officials would be required to disclose their finances so possible conflicts could be identified. Second, a waiting period of one year would be required between when public officials could resign and take jobs lobbying their former colleagues. Third, protections for government whistleblowers would be established.

In addition, Democrats are calling for the formation of an independent ethics commission to rule on possible violations.

This is the part when you shake your head and wonder why these reforms aren’t already in place. It’s just another symptom of what happens in a state with virtual one-party rule. Another symptom is lenient public meeting and records laws, but that’s a subject for another time.

The last serious attempt to introduce ethics legislation occurred in 2009, when a financial disclosure bill unanimously passed the Senate but was throttled by House Speaker Lawerence Denney. He said the law wasn’t extensive enough, and then made the perfect the enemy of the good by not allowing a hearing. So the state remains one of three in the nation that keeps the public in the dark.

This time around Denney says he’s open to the ideas, and now there is a bipartisan working group exploring the issues.

Rather than reinvent the wheel on ethics, the working group could just turn to the Center for Public Integrity for the best practices in other states. For instance, Washington finished first in public disclosure, according to the center’s 2009 state rankings. The system is pretty slick. Information on a legislator’s sources of income is just a few clicks away.

The only reason for Idaho lawmakers to spend a lot of time on disclosure is if they want to place the state in the middle of the rankings by watering down requirements making its system user-unfriendly. That would certainly take more effort, but it wouldn’t be work done on the public’s behalf.

The “cooling off” period for lobbying is also a no-brainer. A Spokesman-Review article has the details:

“The governor’s former chief of staff is now walking the Statehouse halls as a lobbyist for Idaho Power Co. and the Corrections Corp. of America, and the former deputy director of the state Department of Insurance signed on to lobby this year for one of the state’s largest insurance companies, Regence BlueShield, after years of regulating the firm. In 2007, Denney came under fire after he recommended that a California developer dump its lobbyist, with whom Denney had a political dispute, and instead hire a former member of House GOP leadership who had just switched to lobbying.”

This is banana republic stuff.

It’s high time the Legislature quit ignoring the public’s wishes and got on with the business of building integrity.

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