BOISE -- Critics say a state senator from New Plymouth covered up the fact that he could personally gain from a bill he actively supported. Sen. Monty Pearce responded to the accusations by saying it's all politically motivated.
An ethics committee is being convened to look into whether Pearce disclosed early enough possible financial benefits from oil and gas companies that lease his land.
Idaho Senate rules state that senators must disclose possible conflicts of interest before voting. On Wednesday, Sen. Pearce acknowledged that he had oil and gas leases on his land before voting on House Bill 464. That bill limits governments ability to regulate oil and gas drilling.
However, Democrats point out that Pearce didn't disclose that possible conflict before voting in committee and voting on numerous other energy bills. They wanted him to resign as chair of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. But Friday, Senate leaders allowed him to keep that position. Democrats still want Pearce to recuse himself from voting on any oil and gas industry matters.
Pearce told the Associated Press, This is political... As a landowner, the only measure where I could have a conflict was House Bill 464, and on that bill, I made the proper declaration. In short, I met the spirit and letter of Senate rules. I look forward to clearing my name and receiving an apology from those who made these baseless allegations.
Nevertheless, an ethics committee will be convened. Sen. Dean Mortimer (R-Idaho Falls) will chair that committee. Besides Mortimer, Sen. Bert Brackett (R-Rogerson), Sen. Jim Hammond (R-Coeur d'Alene), Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise), Sen. Diane Bilyeu (D-Pocatello), and Sen. Dan Schmidt (D-Moscow) will serve on it. Now, Pearce's fate lies in their hands and Senate leadership isn't saying much more.
I just wouldn't even comment on it one way or the other because I don't want to influence that committee in any way, said President Pro Tempore Brent Hill (R-Rexburg). This is an independent thing, they need to make those decisions.
I don't want to anticipate what the committee is going to do, said Assistant Minority Leader Les Bock (D-Boise). They may find that the allegations are more serious than what appears on paper, and they may find that the allegations are not as serious.
Bock said the committee could be done with their investigation in just two or three days, but it's hard to say. Hill said he didn't want to rush them and if it takes even until after the Legislature adjourns, they have that option.
The Senate sent House Bill 464 to the governor's desk on Wednesday. The Idaho Senate Committee on Ethics will have its initial organizational meeting on March 19.