New House committee to oversee ethical issues
The evenly bipartisan panel will investigate alleged conflicts
The state House will set up a committee to investigate House members accused of misconduct or ethics violations.
The action was approved yesterday by a House subcommittee led by Rep. Kirk Caldwell, Democratic leader, who called the proposal "historic."
The committee would have three Democratic and three Republican members, all appointed by the speaker of the House.
The move comes out of a failed attempt last year to pass stricter ethics legislation.
Last year, House Democratic leaders held a news conference to announce they were in favor of tougher ethics laws. The House bill was changed in the Senate to require drug testing of legislators, and the idea died.
In its place, House leaders set up the subcommittee to approve changes in House rules.
"We have got about 75 percent of what we wanted in regards to the ethics committee, so it is a great leap," said Rep. Lynn Finnegan, House GOP leader. "I think we have done a lot here."
The proposed new House rule defines a conflict of interest as arising when a lawmaker considers legislation affecting his or her "direct personal, familial or financial interest." An exception is made if the member or a relative is part of a "class of people affected by the legislation."
Ethics complaints that are not investigated by the state Ethics Commission are now handled by the House speaker.
The Senate also is being urged to consider such a rule change, according to Sen. Les Ihara, although the Senate has not held any discussions on ethics rule changes.