Without pointing out specific occurrences, Idaho Democrats announced Thursday they would seek ethics reforms in the upcoming legislative session.
Though Democrats hold just a small number of seats in the House and Senate, it seems Republicans may be willing to work with the minority on ethics reform.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, seemed skeptical of the plans, but did hint that cooperation might be in order. “I am willing to work with minority, maybe we could come up with something out of that.”
Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malapeai, D-Pocatello, told reporters gathered at the Capitol for the annual legislative preview that the last few years have seen behavior "unbecoming of public servants" in the state and that the minority party plans to address the issues. The Senate minority leader wouldn't give many details, but did hint that potential legislation could create an independent ethics commission. He also said Democrats may pursue "revolving door" legislation that would prevent lawmakers from taking Idaho government-related private sector jobs immediately after working in the public arena.
What Malapeai wouldn't say is exactly why he and his party are motivated to bring ethics reforms, but he hinted at the causes. "I think most of you have been reading the things in the papers … to know what I am talking about," the Pocatello Democrat said. "I’m not prepared to get into naming names."
The only ethics cases in either chamber of the Legislature came in 2010 when Athol Republican Rep. Phil Hart faced complaints about his non-payment of state and federal taxes and controversy over his theft of timber from state endowment lands. Hart lost his spot on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and his vice chairmanship on the House Transportation Committee as a result.
During 2011, two state senators came under public scrutiny involving the per diem allowance for legislators. Sens. John McGee, R-Caldwell, and Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, accepted per diem money for maintaining a second residence during the 2011 legislative sessions, but reportedly slept rent-free at different locations. McGee slept at this parent's home in Boise and McKenzie caught rest on the couch in his Boise law office.
McGee also came under fire due to his June arrest for drunken driving. He was originally charged with driving under the influence and grand theft, but the latter charge was dropped in a plea deal. In the ordeal, McGee stole and eventually jackknifed an SUV and trailer in Boise.
Another incident involving an unelected public figure also raised questions about moving from the public sector straight into a lobbying position in the private sector. Gov. Butch Otter's chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, resigned his position to join one of the largest lobbying firms in Idaho.
Without pointing specific fingers, Democrats say ethical lapses of the recent path have caused Idahoans to question the government’s integrity. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, says it’s time to restore public trust. “People want what government is necessary to be focused on the common good and not on personal gain,” he said. “So we’ll be trying to address programs and proposals that restore some of the faith that people have lost in government.”
Rusche told IdahoReporter.com that the bills will likely be ready in the first or second week of the legislative session.