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News >  Idaho

Idaho lawmakers get ethics training

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers will undergo four hours of ethics training today, in a mandatory session for all 105 senators and representatives.

It’s the second straight year the mandatory ethics training has been offered to state lawmakers. “Ethics is more than statute – it’s governed by character,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.

The training session, he said, will “help remind people that we have a high level of responsibility to the public because we have gone out and asked for their trust, and they have given us their trust. So we are held to a very high standard of conduct. We want to remind people of that.”

The training comes as Idaho is poised to consider filling a major gap in its disclosure laws – it is currently one of just three states with no personal financial disclosure requirements for legislators or any elected or appointed state official. The only other states lacking such laws are Michigan and Vermont.

Hill noted that a financial disclosure bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2009. However, then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney declined to assign it to a House committee, so it died.

The idea behind financial disclosure is to make sure citizens can tell when a politician may be motivated by a personal interest, rather than the public interest.

On Tuesday, House and Senate Democrats endorsed three new ethics laws this session: the financial disclosure bill, a “revolving door” law to restrict former lawmakers from immediately returning to the Statehouse as lobbyists and a ban on the lobbying of the executive branch by prospective contractors during the time requirements for big new contracts are being developed. “That needs to be more carefully monitored and managed,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

Both the House and Senate have had to convene ethics committees in recent years to examine complaints against lawmakers. Last year, a House ethics committee was convened after Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, acknowledged to the House that she cast one of just two votes against a bill that could benefit her personally without disclosing her conflict of interest. The bill would have removed 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 faced 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.

The panel decided not to impose formal sanctions against McMillan because she admitted the lapse.

In 2012, a Senate ethics panel was convened over a complaint against then-Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, for failing to disclose, through 22 votes on oil and gas legislation, that he had oil and gas leases on his land. He disclosed the conflict before the final vote. The Senate committee declined to sanction Pearce.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said most ethics issues that have arisen in the Legislature haven’t been “malicious,” but came when lawmakers didn’t fully grasp the requirements of legislative ethics rules.

“I do not want to not have done my part in that education process,” he said.

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