- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A bill to block lawmakers from serving in other elected posts is headed for a House vote after proponents said it will help protect the public from situations where officials are torn by competing interests.

The bill narrowly passed the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning over objections that it takes the decision away from voters and creates a hardship for rural areas where finding people to serve is like pulling teeth.

Rep. Lynn Luker, a Republican from Boise and the bill’s author, called the proposal a way to prevent conflicts of interest that could crop up when an official represents two groups. He pointed to 25 other states that have provisions against legislators from holding county or city office. Luker’s bill would keep lawmakers off boards that deal with public spending or taxation, such as school boards or highway districts.

He also rebuffed assertions that barring legislators from other offices would cause problems for small districts.

“I have a hard time believing that excluding three legislators in a five-county district is going to cause a hardship in any particular committee or district,” Luker said.

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, recounted his early days in the Legislature where he also served on the school board in his southeastern Idaho community.

Had he not resigned, he said, he imagines he might have fallen prey to partiality when trying to represent both constituencies.

“If I had remained a school board member, and been here as a legislator, I know it would have biased my thinking about legislation that affected the school and the school policy,” he said. “We ought to separate that out.”

Some lawmakers argued the issue should be left up to voters, who have the power to oust officials they believe are not able to perform in both positions.

“It’s their decision if this is appropriate or not,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. “We as a Legislature need to be very careful telling the voters who they can and cannot vote for, and who they can and cannot select for public office.”

If adopted, lawmakers who occupy two seats will be forced to choose between them on Jan. 1.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, a GOP freshman from Filer and highway district commissioner in southern Idaho, would be one of those asked to resign from one of his positions.

Kauffman thinks that undercuts voters.

“All politics should be local,” he said. “Let the people of my district decide.”

Greater Boise Auditorium District board member Steve Berch, a Democrat currently running for a District 15 seat- the same district the bill’s author represents - also expressed skepticism Wednesday, calling the measure a “solution for problems that don’t exist.”

Berch added he’d seen little evidence of lawmakers using their positions on other committees to abuse their legislative power.

“I think Idahoans are more than capable of deciding who they want to represent them in elected positions, and they’re more than capable of deciding who they no longer want in those positions,” said Berch, who is running for the seat held by Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise.

The committee’s vote ships the bill to the House floor, although both advocates and opponents said they expect a lively debate once it gets there.

If it passes the House, it will head to the Senate for review.

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