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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: McMillan ‘grateful’ for House ethics review

North Idaho Rep. Shannon McMillan says she’s grateful for the process in which the House Ethics Committee decided to not take any formal action against her for failing to disclose a conflict of interest before voting against a bill.

McMillan, R-Silverton, cast one of just two votes in the House against HB 510, which would remove a special exemption dating back to 1939 that protects elected officials and legislators from having their wages garnished due to state court judgments. She didn’t disclose that she faces numerous court judgments, including at least one in which garnishing of her legislative wages was blocked because of the special exemption. House ethics rules require such disclosures.

A week later, McMillan asked the House for forgiveness, revealed her conflict of interest and requested an ethics committee investigation into her actions.

“I thank the committee for responding quickly to my request for this review,” McMillan said in a statement. “I am grateful for this process that has helped to assure that the high ethical standards of this body and my fellow members are upheld.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said the committee decided against formal sanctions “in light of Rep. McMillan’s voluntary disclosure of a potential conflict.” He added, “We conclude with a caution to the body to thoughtfully consider and declare conflicts to the body prior to voting.”

McMillan said she hoped the review helped make all House members “more aware of House Rule 38,” regarding conflicts of interest.

Though HB 510 passed the House overwhelmingly, it died in the Senate without a hearing.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, who two years ago defeated tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, in the GOP primary. The special exemption stopped Hart’s legislative wages from being attached for back state taxes but didn’t stop federal garnishment actions – and the IRS garnished Hart’s entire legislative paycheck.

McMillan has announced she’ll run for a third term in the House; she faces a challenge from Republican Shauna Hillman of Wallace in the GOP primary, with the winner facing Democrat Jessica Chilcott of Sandpoint in November.

Buying mega-locally

A New Yorker article out last week on the saga of the Highway 12 megaloads in Idaho, headlined, “Another Oil-Sands Challenge: Transporting Equipment,” has an interesting note in it. Writer Michael Ames reports that Imperial Oil, the Exxon Mobil affiliate that unsuccessfully sought to move 200-plus megaloads of Korean-made oil field equipment over the scenic Idaho river corridor en route to the Canadian oil sands, is now ordering equipment that’s manufactured in Alberta instead.

Ames writes that by February 2013, after legal battles and rerouted loads, Imperial was 61 percent over budget for the first phase of its oil-sands development. “From now on, Imperial is ordering its heavy processing equipment from Canadian manufacturers,” he reports, quoting company spokesman Pius Rolheiser saying that the Highway 12 quagmire “was a significant factor in our decision not to procure modules from outside Alberta.”

Protest leads to vote

A day before the legislative session adjourned, the Idaho Senate voted 28-6 to suspend its rule that allows former senators floor privileges. That was the day after former senator Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, hid for more than five hours in a closet behind the Senate chamber in protest over the Legislature’s failure to add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We cannot have anyone abusing their privileges in the Senate,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. His motion got the required two-thirds support.

There have been roughly 180 arrests of “Add the Words” protesters during this year’s legislative session, nearly all for trespassing, when the demonstrators refused to leave the Capitol. They pressed for a hearing on legislation to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the anti-discrimination protections in the Idaho Human Rights Act. That change has been proposed each year for the past eight years, but the bill never has gotten a hearing.

Saving lives

Legislation signed into law last week regarding “time-sensitive emergencies” will save an estimated 100 lives a year in Idaho, according to House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician. Rusche co-sponsored the bill with the other two medical doctors who serve in the Legislature – Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow – and Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. It’s the result of six months of work by the state Health Quality Planning Commission and numerous stakeholders on improving procedures for dealing with patients suffering from trauma, stroke and heart attack, three of the state’s top five causes of death.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at or (208) 336-2854.

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