House Speaker Scott Bedke says revisions to make proceedings of the House Ethics Committee more transparent will have to wait until next year.
“I’m afraid we’re not going to get it done,” Bedke, R-Oakley, said of changes to House Rule 76′s ban on lawmakers commenting on ethics matters before the House.
Bedke’s concerns were prompted by revelations in November that former Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit rape in Florida in 1974 and was charged with and acquitted of rape in Ohio in 1976.
“(Even) if an allegation becomes public then the rule requires everybody involved to stay mum and not address the issue publicly,” Bedke said. “That sends a message we’re not wanting to send.”
Bedke designated Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, and Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, to review Rule 76′s secrecy provision and the requirement that ethics complaints may only be lodged by one of the 70 members of the House.
Bedke, Luker and Burgoyne said progress has been made, but that proposed amendments won’t be ready for approval by the House until the 2015 session, though Bedke had said he wanted to wrap up the changes before adjournment this year.
“I’ll take the blame in that I didn’t push like I might have,” Bedke said. “Everybody’s willing to go to work on this.”
Luker and Burgoyne are both lawyers. Luker is chairman of the House Ethics Committee and Burgoyne is assistant minority leader. Both said they have simply been too busy to complete their work and make recommendations to Bedke.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Luker said. “We’ve have some issues we’re still talking about and as we talked there were some other things that came up that we just needed to look at. It’s not going away. I think there needs to be some balance between public information and confidentiality.”
“Both of us have been extremely busy this session,” said Burgoyne, who has filled in some days as Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, has been away to be with his wife during her chemotherapy.
House Rule 76 was amended in 2013 along the line of changes in the Senate that made preliminary ethics inquires secret in 2012. The Senate’s Rule 53 was amended on the last day of the 2012 session over Democrats’ objections.
Senate Republicans made the changes after Democrats leveled an ethics complaint against Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, for failure to disclose in a timely manner than he had sold oil and gas leases. After three public hearings by the bipartisan Ethics Committee, the panel unanimously dismissed the complaint against Pearce.
The changes in both houses made preliminary ethics inquiries secret until an ethics committee finds probable cause of a violation. If a committee agrees there was no probable cause, no public acknowledgment is made of an ethics inquiry unless a representative or senator makes the inquiry public themselves. Where probable cause is found, the ethics committees would hold public hearings.
Early this month, Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, made a request on the House floor that the Ethics Committee investigate her failure to disclose her conflict of interest when she voted against legislation that may have hurt her financially. McMillan voted against a bill that would allow the paychecks of legislators to be garnished for state court judgments. McMillan has multiple civil judgments against her. One attempt to garnish her state paycheck was denied because she is exempt from such actions as a lawmaker.
Luker and Burgoyne declined comment on McMillan’s case, except to acknowledge she made the request in public. While both said their heavy workloads were the cause of the delay on revisions sought by Bedke, Luker added, “It’s probably not a good idea to change things while we’ve got something in process.”
Said Burgoyne: “There may be an opportunity to road test (Rule 76) and to that extent it may actually help the process. If that happens, then the people in the House can look at it next session.”
Burgoyne, who is running for the Senate against Republican Joel Robinson, won’t be in the House next year.
For almost two months, former Rep. Patterson rejected calls he resign after the Statesman reported on his criminal history in November.
Members of the House who commented on any ethics complaint against Patterson would have been subject to a complaint for violating the secrecy rule. That prompted frustration among some lawmakers facing constituents asking how the House could tolerate such conduct.
Also, under House Rule 76, an ethics complaint lodged by Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney against Patterson and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, was moot because complaints must come from one of the 70 members of the House. Raney alleged Patterson Boyle used the resources of the Attorney General’s office to fight Raney’s moving to revoke Patterson’s concealed weapons permit.