Idaho Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, has appointed seven members of the House who will decide the fate of their fellow lawmaker, Rep. Phil Hart, R-Hayden, regarding his using his status as representative to ward off tax collectors from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as well as the Idaho State Tax Commission. There has been no formal date set for the ethics hearing, but Denney said earlier this week that he believes the panel will meet sometime in August.
The investigation comes after a writer for the Spokesman Review revealed that Hart used his status as a representative, beginning in his first year in service, to keep tax collectors at bay. A provision in the Idaho Constitution prevents lawmakers from being arrested or served during session, a loophole which Hart has used several times. The writer found that Hart had more than $300,000 in liens placed against him by the IRS and that he has been delinquent in paying property taxes several times.
Denney called on state Rep. Tom Loerstcher, R-Iona, to chair the panel, while tapping Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, to serve as the vice chairman. Reps. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, and Rich Wills, R-Glenn Ferry, will also represent the majority party on the ethics committee. Reps. George Sayler, D-Coeur d'Alene, and Bill Killen, D-Boise, will sit for the minority party. Denney expressed faith in the panel to come to the right conclusion. "I have full confidence in the Idaho House process and in the capable and experienced members I have selected for this committee. It is important for both the House and for Rep. Hart to have this matter resolved quickly and in a fair, even-handed manner."
Because the House is not in session, Denney explained, there will be no action regarding his seat on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, the group of lawmakers tasked with setting tax policy in the state.
Hart said that he welcomes the investigation, which was called for by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.