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'Is transparency so paramount...?' Idaho lawmaker argues for private ethics hearings

Idaho House Representative Vito Barbieri
Boise State Public Radio
Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens), seen in this file photo, argued Monday that a House ethics committee should handle disciplinary matters behind closed doors.

As the Idaho House considers changes to its ethics policy, one legislator wants to make all disciplinary hearings private.

Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) called this year’s public ethics hearings a “fiasco,” saying disciplinary recommendations could’ve instead been released in a report.

“Is transparency so paramount that we must put ourselves through a public spectacle as we did every time those facts reach the point of we’re going to investigate further?”

Right now, the House ethics committee initially hashes out complaints behind closed doors, and more often than not, handles the matters internally. But if they think there’s enough evidence to support a complaint, it becomes public.

This year, two of those complaints were revealed and resulted in the resignation of one legislator and the censure of another.

An intern accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlingerof rape, which he denies. Von Ehlinger resigned after the hearing and faces two felony charges.

The House censured Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings last month after she shared a far-right blog post outing the alleged rape victim. Giddings’ refusal to participate in the process ultimately led to her sanctions, according to committee members, which included being stripped of a committee assignment

Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa) disagreed with Barbieri Monday. Crane said making hearings private would lead to even more suspicion.

“We were accused as being lapdogs for [House Speaker Scott Bedke]. That was kind of, ‘Oh, they’re just doing Bedke’s bidding,’” he said. “Now, mind you, two of us have ran against Bedke for Speaker.”

Other proposals floated include increasing the size of the House ethics committee, having its members choose their own chairperson and offering subjects of complaints access to lawyers if they can’t afford one.

The committee expects to vote on recommendations to change its governing rules Tuesday.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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