Friday, February 8, 2013

Lawmakers propose ethics committee

Legislators: External committee would increase transparency


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

     State Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, has joined forces with Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, to introduce a bill that would set up a committee charged with listening to ethics complaints from citizens.

     The independent ethics commission would be made up of two citizens who are not legislators or lobbyists, one person from the Attorney General’s office, one person from the Idaho Department of Finance and one person from Idaho Legislative Services.

     King said in a written statement dated Feb. 5 that her constituents have demanded an open, transparent way to address ethical lapses in their legislators, state employees and state officials.

     “The commission restores their faith in this important public institution,” she said.

     The bill introduced by Stennett and King differs from a resolution passed by the House on Tuesday, which amends the Rules of the House of Representatives to allow legislators to make complaints about their colleagues. The newly formed committee will consist only of legislators—two from the minority party and three from the majority.


“An internal ethics committee still leaves open the possibility of partisanship getting in the way of a rigorous investigation, or even the perception that complaints are not handled fairly.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett
D-Ketchum


     In contrast, the bill from Stennett and King, House Bill 61, would allow any Idaho citizen to report a breach of ethics, misuse of funds or violation of law by any state employee or official. A complaint would become public only when the commission determined that it had merit.

     Stennett contended that an internal committee would not achieve the goals of transparency in ethics complaints.

     “An internal ethics committee still leaves open the possibility of partisanship getting in the way of a rigorous investigation, or even the perception that complaints are not handled fairly,” she said. “This is a disservice to the people of Idaho who expect and deserve some oversight over the activities of their elected officials.”

     The committee is expected to cost the state $50,000 in the first year and $25,000 each year after.

The bill has been introduced and is currently in the House State Affairs committee.


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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