by Andrew Crisp
The Senate has approved three resolutions related to the legacy of the ethics allegations against New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce, who disclosed a possible conflict of interest only after committee hearings on bills related to oil and gas drilling, .
Pearce negotiated personal agreements with an oil and gas exploration company before shepherding oil and gas-related legislation through his Senate Resources and Environment Committee. Senate Democrats lodged an ethics complaint, saying Pearce should have disclosed a conflict of interest in committee long before considering the legislation.
Early today, the Senate unveiled resolutions 105, 106 and 107 related to ethics investigations, the removal of Senate employees, and the resulting investigation after an ethics complaint is filed.
"I really regret that I'm one of the last people between you and sine die," said Boise Democrat Sen. Les Bock. "But I do have some debate, and it's important debate. These are weighty matters. I think we need to stop and pause in the rush to head out the door, and think about what we're doing."
With the specter of an imminent sine die looming over the proceedings, the Senate sped through the first two resolutions quickly; however, they slowed when the body took up a measure that would establish a closed-door committee to establish probable cause of ethics allegations.
"This would require probable cause if misconduct has occurred, and whether or not some action should be taken by the committee or by the Senate," said Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Bart Davis.
Yet opponents of Senate Resolution 107 said that the provision allowing a tie vote in the partisan six-member ethics committee to result in the dropping of charges disenfranchises allegations brought by a rival political party.
"In the dark, on a party-line vote, a party can squash any ethics complaint," said Boise Democrat Sen. Nicole LeFavour. "The party can ensure any party is not capable of filing an ethics complaint."
Critics also asked why a rule related to the body would be crafted at the last minute, and without minority party input. One senator received a copy of the resolution just the morning before it was taken up by the Senate.
"There was no intent to leave the minority party out of the process. We did try to include you; maybe we could have tried longer and harder," said Hill.
All three resolutions passed along party lines, 28-7.
Coeur d'Alene Republican Sen. Jim Hammond summed it up:
"Let's genuinely make these improvement. And we'll come back next year, those of us who do, and we can look at it again, said Hammond. "It's a good step forward."