A five-person Ethics Committee which would be chosen by the majority and minority caucuses was proposed on behalf of House Speaker Scott Bedke Monday.
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, presented the measure to change House rules to the House Judiciary & Rules Committee, which introduced the bill. A hearing will be held later.
Bedke, R-Oakley, promised a standing Ethics Committee to replace the current ad hoc process that calls for the speaker to appoint a seven-member committee upon receipt of a complaint. Bedke's successful challenge to former Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, was fueled, in part, by concerns that Denney was lax on ethics, including the House's handling of former Rep. Phil Hart's failure to pay about $600,000 in income taxes.
The new committee would have three majority members and two minority members nominate and elected by their caucuses by secret ballot. None of the Ethics Committee members could be members of House leadership.
The reform continues the practice of limiting ethics complaints lodged by members of the House.
The new rule would establish a protocol for the written complaints, which would require an allegation of one of the following: conduct unbecoming a representative which detrimental to the integrity of the House; disclosure of confidential House information; conduct constituting a felony; violation of any state law related to using public office for private pecuniary gain; conflict of interest; violation of any law or rule that constitutes a breach of public trust.
The committee would review initial complaints in confidence. If the panel found probable cause, a public hearing would follow.
The rule change would also refine the punishments for ethical breaches, from reprimand to censure to expulsion. Censure could include conditions and restrictions.
"It makes it a powerful and flexible sanction tool," Luker said.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne of Boise, the assistant minority leader and senior Democrat on the committee, thanked the Republicans for sharing drafts of the rule change and adopting some of the Democrat's suggestions.
"I want to congratulate Reps. Luker and (Fred) Wood on what I regard as a fair and productive process," Burgoyne said.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, has advocated establishing an independent ethics commission. Idaho is among a nine states without independent commissions.