Idaho Senate Democrats asked Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill Thursday to investigate whether Republican Sen. Monty Pearce of New Plymouth violated ethics rules.
Democrats listed 16 times new oil and gas rules and bills came before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee Pearce chairs, or that he voted for them on the floor. But he only disclosed that he has leased oil and gas drilling rights to a company on his final vote on the floor of a regulatory bill Wednesday.
“Through all of these committee hearings, Senate debates and actions, and numerous votes, Senator Pearce never revealed his conflict of interest,” wrote Sens. Edgar Malepeai, Les Bock and Michelle Stennett, the Senate minority leader, assistant minority leader and caucus chair.
Democrats asked Hill to remove Pearce’s Resources Committee chairmanship and require him to recuse himself from voting on oil and gas issues.
Pearce acknowledged Thursday he had simply not thought about the potential conflict until the final vote. The leases have been held since the 1980s, he said.
“I vote on an animal cruelty bill and I have animals,” he said. “I vote on water rights and I’ve got water rights.”
Hill and other Republican leaders met with Democratic leaders early in the afternoon.
"We don't want to cover anything up," Hill said. "We're working with the Democratic Party on determining the best way forward."
Alma Hasse, executive director of Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, filed a similar request to Hill Wednesday.
The rule says: "If a Senator has a conflict of interest under applicable law, such conflict must be disclosed to the presiding officer in writing or to the body. Upon disclosure of any conflict the Senator may vote upon any question or issue to which the conflict relates, unless the Senator requests to be excused.”
Lieutenant Gov. Brad Little, recused himself last year when standing in for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter on the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission when it approved new rules for the industry. Little said he was in negotiations with an oil and gas company for rights to drill on his property.
But Little, who presides over the Senate, broke a 17-17 tie Friday, on the same oil and gas regulatory bill that was finally passed Wednesday. But Little’s vote was on a procedural motion.
And his vote actually went against his apparent interest since he last leased thousands of acres of his land to Snake River Oil and Gas.
“Had I been asked to explain my vote I would have disclosed,” Little said. “We should always default to doing that.”
Hill said since Little is a part of the executive branch, The Senate has no jurisdiction over Little on ethics issues.