BOISE — A panel of Idaho lawmakers on Wednesday rejected proposed legislation that would have required lawmakers to disclose some of their personal financial information.
The House State Affairs Committee killed the proposal in a voice vote, with only three members of the committee voting in favor.
Under the legislation, candidates for the state legislature or any state, county or city office would have had to file annual forms listing their primary employer, what businesses they own and each entity that paid them more than $5,000 in the past year. The bill would also have covered stocks and whether the candidate is a corporate officer or board member.
But some members of the House State Affairs committee said they felt the bill was intrusive or unnecessary.
“For me, with most of the constituents in my district, if they want to know something they can ask,” said Rep. Christy Zito, a Republican from Hammett.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, a Republican from Dalton Gardens, said people might take aim at certain businesses or lawmaker’s sources of income just because they don’t like a lawmaker’s ideology.
The Idaho Legislature last year asked a bipartisan interim committee to submit recommendations on campaign finance reforms for lawmakers to consider during the current session. Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher of Iona — the chairman of the House State Affairs committee — suggested the disclosure legislation, which mimicked Utah’s personal financial disclosure rules.
The interim committee unanimously endorsed the legislation, but the reception was decidedly less warm when Loertscher presented the plan to his own committee Wednesday morning.
Meridian Republican Rep. Steven Harris suggested the proposed rules could limit the interest in running for elected office, and called it an “an inappropriate piece of legislation.”
“I think this is a huge damper for those who want to challenge us,” Harris said.
The Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity analyzed disclosure forms and legislative votes across the country last year. Idaho was not included because the state requires no financial disclosure by elected officials.
In the other states, the news organizations found numerous examples in which lawmakers’ votes had the effect of promoting their private interests. Examples included a Nevada senator who cast multiple votes benefiting clients of his lobbying firm, an Iowa lawmaker who championed and voted for a tax break that allowed his welding and machine shop to avoid paying sales tax on many supplies and two Hawaii lawmakers who sponsored and voted for legislation that smoothed the legal speed bumps their companies navigate.
Harris said that Idaho is a “citizen legislature,” where lawmakers serve part-time while maintaining their ordinary jobs and lives. He said members of the public see lawmakers as “one of them.”
Citizen legislatures are common nationwide. The Center for Public Integrity found that more than three-quarters of all lawmakers reported having outside income or employment. And some states, such as Utah and Oregon, require lawmakers to vote even if they have a conflict of interest.
Loertscher told the committee that his proposal comes in part because organizations like the Center for Public Integrity have repeatedly given Idaho failing grades in government transparency, in large part because the state lacks financial disclosure rules.
“If you think that there is not a target on you, think again,” Loertscher said.
The legislation is intended to “make sure we do this in the least intrusive way possible,” he said. “Because in the future ... especially if an initiative comes along, who in the Legislature is going to have the nerve, if you will, to vote against the will of the people who have decided they want to know this information?”
The three committee members who voted in favor of moving the proposal forward were Loertscher, Plummer Democrat Rep. Paulette Jordan, and Pocatello Democrat Rep. Elaine Smith.