Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Steele Creates Standing House Ethics Committee

From The Speaker's Office ~ House Speaker Kris Steele on Tuesday formed a standing House Ethics Committee that will develop ethics standards for House members and evaluate questions of ethics in legislative business.

“Forming this committee is a clear signal that the House of Representatives is serious about maintaining its obligation to preserving public confidence in government,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Thoughtful discussion and action on ethics issues is always worthwhile for those of us in government. This committee allows us to have those discussions in a consistent manner under established procedures that are fair to all.”

Formation of the House Ethics Committee was recommended in September by the House Special Investigative Committee. Upon the conclusion of its work, the House Special Investigative Committee stated in its final report that creating a permanent House Ethics Committee would “instill confidence that the House of Representatives will deal with ethics complaints in an expeditious, fair and consistent manner,” as is done in many other state legislative chambers.

Both chambers of Congress and 39 states have some form of a legislative ethics committee that deals with questions of ethics and oversees conduct of members in a particular legislative chamber. These committees differ from entities such as the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, which is comprised of appointed commissioners and professional staff who formulate and oversee compliance of ethics rules for campaigns, lobbying and elected officials. Like its counterparts in other states, the House Ethics Committee will be comprised of House members and will focus solely on ethical issues pertaining to legislative business conducted in the House.

“Many other states and Congress have committees just like this. If other states can do this well, so can Oklahoma,” Steele said. “Given the House’s constitutional obligation to oversee the conduct of its members, this committee is a way to further show our commitment to upholding our state constitution and to ethical behavior.”

Steele named Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, as chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Banz also served on the House Special Investigative Committee.

“Expressing differences of opinion on public policy questions is the norm in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. However, it cannot be the norm when it comes to ethics questions concerning a House member,” Banz said. “Voters have every right to expect their public servants to be honest and display the highest level of integrity. When the ethical behavior of any member is called into question, the House must move decisively to address the issue. Creating a standard by which to judge potential breaches of the public trust simply carries out the mandates of the Oklahoma Constitution and House Rules. I support the task and mission that has been given to the new Ethics Committee and pledge to ensure our work is done in an effective and timely manner.”

Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, was named vice-chairman of the House Ethics Committee.

“House members already hold ethics in the highest regard and practice it on a daily basis in the course of our duties. Unethical behavior is extremely rare, but should questions of ethics arise in the future, we will be fully prepared to address them through established procedures that will evaluate the facts fairly and evenly so appropriate responses can be determined,” Shumate said. “I applaud the formation of this bipartisan committee and will do everything in my power to see that it lives up to its expectations.”

Also supporting the formation of the House Ethics Committee are Reps. Fred Jordan and Ben Sherrer, the chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the House Special Investigative Committee.

“The investigative committee found during its work that the House has a need for a higher level of procedural certainty when evaluating ethical questions pertaining to its members. We recommended a standing ethics committee as a way to do that and I am pleased our speaker has followed that recommendation,” said Jordan, R-Jenks.

“I applaud Speaker Steele for following through on the recommendation to form this committee. It’s the right thing to do – plain and simple. I’m pleased it will be bipartisan and expect its existence will be a very positive addition to the public service we perform in the House of Representatives,” said Sherrer, D-Chouteau.

The House Ethics Committee will be an eight-member, bipartisan committee comprised of four Republicans and four Democrats. Committee members are:

  • Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, chairman
  • Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, vice-chairman
  • Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison
  • Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton,
  • Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague
  • Rep. R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers
  • Rep. Wade Rousselot, D-Okay
  • Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell

Reps. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow and Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, member will be alternate members of the committee.

The House Ethics Committee will begin meeting in the interim to develop rules under which it will operate and to develop a formal code of conduct for House members. It will also determine the scope of its jurisdiction and the types of matters it will review.

“I’ve asked the committee to develop fair rules that facilitate effective oversight while guarding against putting the committee in a position where it could work in ways that are improper or unfairly detrimental to our members and to the House,” Steele said. “The committee is here to work as-needed to address questions of ethics that may arise in the course of legislative business. It’s not here for personal attacks, public embarrassment of our members or political games. It will act responsibly, fairly and appropriately.”

The House Ethics Committee will use its rules and the code of conduct to determine whether matters need to be considered by the committee in the future.

“I want to be clear that this committee will be looking at only those ethical issues that may arise after it is fully formed. It will not be delving into the past to look at past issues,” Steele said. “I’m confident the very existence of this committee will further improve what is already an outstanding legislative body that cares very deeply about good governance.”

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