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Idaho Nearly Fails Government Accountability Report Card

A new investigative project ranks Idaho 40th out of 50 states for government accountability and openness.  The Gem State fails six categories outright, including ethics enforcement agencies.  The study comes out Monday as state senators investigate one of their own.

Journalists across the U.S. put together the State Integrity Investigation Report Card.  Betsy Russell wrote the section on Idaho.  She covers state government for the Spokesman-Review.  "There are a lot of basic accountability laws that Idaho doesn’t have that most other states do. And that includes financial disclosure for public officials, revolving door laws about going directly from government service into lobbying or private industry, an independent ethics commission, and a number of others."

Idaho still doesn’t have these laws but it’s not for lack of trying.  Democratic leaders made ethics reform a priority before the session began.  Back in January, Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepaeai said,  "We need to behave in a very ethical way and the only way we need to do that is for us as legislators and leadership to work together to bring about some sweeping changes in our ethics law."

Legislation on an independent ethics commission and financial disclosure requirements, so far, have only been talked about in the hallways.  The integrity report card comes out as an internal ethics panel investigates Republican State Senator Monty Pearce of New Plymouth.  Last week on the Senate floor, Pearce said, “Prior to debate, I’d like to simply state that I could have a possible conflict of interest. I’ve had oil and gas leases on my ranch since the early ‘80s.”

Lawmakers can vote on bills if they disclose a conflict of interest.  But Democrats say Pearce should have made this known before nearly two dozen prior votes on oil and gas issues this session.  As the State Integrity Investigation shows, better disclosure laws in Idaho would make it easier to monitor public officials’ ethics.  A Senate panel meets Monday to investigate the charges against Pearce.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio.

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