When Iona Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher greeted Boise Democrat Rep. Bill Killen on the morning of Tuesday, July 6, he said, "Wish I'd be seeing you under different circumstances. If I wasn't doing this, I'd be cuttin' hay."
Loertscher, Killen and five of their colleagues from the Idaho House of Representatives comprise an ethics committee investigation looking into allegations against Athol Republican Rep. Phil Hart.
Loertscher, Killen and Rupert Republican Rep. John Stevenson made their way to the House State Affairs Committee room at the Statehouse. Other members of the committee, Co-Chair Rep. Wendy Jacquet, a Ketchum Democrat, Rexburg Republican Rep. Dell Raybould), Coeur d'Alene Democrat Rep. George Sayler and Glenns Ferry Republican Rep. Rich Wills joined via conference call. Loertscher said he had had formally set a letter to Hart giving him until Wednesday, July 14 to respond to allegations.
The ethics complaints allege a possible conflict of interest due to Hart's membership of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while fighting his own back taxes with both the state and federal governments. Hart is also accused of abusing legislative privilege in seeking delays in his tax cases.
"I saw Hart from a distance recently, and he avoided me like the plague," " said Loertscher. "That's a good thing, And I highly encourage every other member of the committee not to have conversations with [Hart] while the investigation is ongoing."
Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy attorney general, did most of the talking this morning, setting the groundwork for the investigation.
"This committee does not determine Rep. Hart's punishment," said Kane. "This committee determines if his conduct violates the House rules."
When complete, the committee will make one of four recommendations to the full House: 1. Dismissal of charges; 2. A reprimand (which would require a majority of the House); 3. Censure (which would also require a majority); 4. Expulsion (which would require a two-thirds majority).
So what happens when a special House committee is convened after the House's business has been adjourned for the year?
"That's a good question," said Kane. "The Speaker [Midvale Republican Rep. Lawerence Denney] certainly has the authority to form a special committee, but they'll be making recommendations to be ratified by the new legislature [which convenes in January]."
The chances of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter convening a special session are slim. Idaho's Constitution says he would have to call both the House and Senate back into session, even though this is exclusively a House matter.
The committee asked Kane to compile exhibits for their investigation, including communications between Hart and the State Tax Commission. "But we've got to be careful," said Loertscher. "We've got to make sure his [personal] rights are respected."
The committee will reconvene on Thursday, July 29 at 9 a.m. at the Statehouse.