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Idaho House modifies its disciplinary procedures in response to 2021 cases

Courtesy of Idaho State House of Representatives

The Ethics Committee recommended expelling one member, censuring another last year.

The Idaho House has voted to tweak its process for disciplining members found to have engaged in wrongdoing.

The move is a response to the 2021 session in which the House Ethics Committee recommended that one member accused of raping a female intern (former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger) be expelled and another accused of doxxing that rape victim (Rep. Priscilla Giddings) be censured. Von Ehlinger resigned right before the full House was to debate his legislative fate. He’s now in the Ada County jail, awaiting trial.

The five members of the committee, including the chairman, Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Sandpoint), determined that procedural changes needed to be made.

“This is a strong effort to address deficiencies that we found, having taken this to the full extent last year, trying to improve it for everybody, primarily for the protection of the members of this body, so that things can’t get out of hand, so that people cannot use it in an improper way,” he said.

The committee began meeting last December. Dixon said it logged more than 30 hours of discussions, going through House Rule 45 line by line.

Ultimately, he said, the committee clarified its processes for expelling, censuring and reprimanding members. It decided that a member could only be recommended for removal from the House with a unanimous committee vote. It determined when information should be kept private and how and which records should be retained. It decided that the committee, not the speaker of the house, should appoint its members. And it determined that it would pay for the accused to hire legal help without any limit on how much could be spent.

There wasn’t much pushback during debate on the House floor Friday, though Rep. Heather Scott (R-Bonner County) said, through last year’s experiences, that the Ethics Committee has been weaponized to take out opponents of the most powerful members. She said the proposal was an improvement, but that work still needed to be done.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) urged her colleagues not to wait to approve the measure because the House members who modified the process were the same people who had the experience of leading both investigations in 2021. Waiting until next year, she said, might rob the committee of valuable institutional knowledge.

The House voted to adopt the rules changes by a 60-to-nine vote.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.