STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON ETHICS
|Bills Addressed: ||Action Taken:|
|House Ethics Committee -- Organizational Meeting||-|
02:03 PM -- House Ethics Committee - Organizational Meeting
Representative Levy, Chair, called the meeting to order, and explained that the House Ethics Committee was created pursuant to House Rule 49 (Attachment A). She added that Representative Balmer had been informed of today's hearing, and that his attorney was present.
Representative Levy referenced the original complaint letter from Representative Mike May, House Minority Leader, and the subsequent letter from the Speaker of the House creating this committee (Attachment B). She provided an overview of the committee's task and reviewed the agenda for today's organizational meeting (Attachment C). She stated that the committee is under a deadline to conduct this initial investigation to determine whether there is reason to go forward with a full investigation. She also discussed a proposed time line for the activities of the House Ethics Committee (Attachment D).
Jennifer Gilroy and Sharon Eubanks, Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS), provided an overview of the committee's scope, the issue of probable cause which is the subject of a memorandum prepared by OLLS for the committee (Attachment E), the time lines related to the committee's charge, and the provisions of House Rule 49 related to the time lines and the scope of what the committee could ask for during this preliminary stage of the investigation.
The committee asked for clarification of what type of materials or evidence the committee can ask for in this preliminary stage under House Rule 49. Ms. Gilroy responded.
Ms. Eubanks discussed the issue of probable cause. She stated that a finding of probable cause will determine whether the proceedings go forward. A memorandum addressing open meetings and open records in ethics investigations was also distributed to the committee (Attachment F).
Representative Curry asked about the preliminary investigation, where testimony is not taken, whether the only way to have a full hearing is to have Representative Balmer request it, or could the committee request it? Representative Judd asked Ms. Gilroy what, based on the complaint filed by the House Minority Leader, the ethical violations would be if the allegations against Representative Balmer are found to be true? What are the alleged violations?
Ms. Gilroy stated that the Office of Legislative Legal Services could pull together the rules and statutes related to this issue. Representative Judd stated that there does not seem to be much guidance about what the committee's role is. Representative Levy referenced the joint rule which prohibits outside influence in leadership elections. Ms. Eubanks clarified that Joint Rule 36 only applies to lobbyist actions.
Representative Curry asked at what point in the process will the committee members get information about what rules or statutes might have been violated by Representative Balmer's alleged activity. Representative Levy discussed the need to look at the complaint letter to see whether it references a violation of a rule, statute, or constitutional provision. She added that this preliminary investigation will help determine that.
Ms. Gilroy stated that she is pulling together everything she can find on this issue, but only has limited information about the facts of the case.
Representative Levy discussed what a preliminary investigation consists of, and what information the committee may want to review. She requested a copy of Representative Acree's complaint which is public now that a committee has been formed to address it. She also requested a sworn statement from the lobbyist, Erik Groves. Ms. Eubanks stated that the lobbyist has issued a sworn statement already, so that is available and can be given to the committee. Representative Levy asked whether it would be possible to ask Representative Acree to submit a more formal complaint to this committee to supplement her original complaint. Ms. Eubanks stated that usually ethics committees have asked for factual evidence documenting issues rather than requesting sworn statements which could constitute testimony. She added that testimony occurs only in the second stage of the process under House Rule 49. Ms. Eubanks stated that if the committee wants to ask Representative Acree whether she has any documentation related to the complaint, then maybe Representative Acree could do a cover letter with this documentation attached.
The committee discussed asking Representative Acree for any hard evidence, along with her sworn statement, about her communications with the lobbyist without asking for a sworn statement from her.
Representative Summers clarified that the committee's role is to examine any evidence it has, and determine whether a violation of the rules, statutes, or the constitution occurred. Representative Levy stated that the committee can gather evidence and then determine if there is probable cause that a violation occurred. She added that there is limited information that can be obtained at this point.
Ms. Eubanks talked about past practice in these types of investigations and discussed a variety of hard evidence that the committee could consider requesting. This could include evidence of Representative Balmer's interactions with other individuals; any written documentation evidencing any conversations that he had with certain individuals or associations (text messages, voice mails, or other forms of communication); and asking other legislators whether they have any knowledge of the issue.
Representative Judd asked the Office of Legislative Legal Services to compile a list of the suggestions Ms. Eubanks just discussed. Representative Curry discussed the need to place some parameters on the requests. Ms. Eubanks suggested narrowing the time frame to specific dates and specific subject matter. For example, Representative May announced his resignation on December 12, then he announced that he was not resigning on December 16, so maybe just looking at that time period would be sufficient.
Representative Curry questioned the language of the rule which limits the types of evidence the committee could gather. Representative Levy talked about the legal process in civil cases where a judge determines whether there is probable cause based solely on the evidence in front of him, without taking additional evidence that would be part of the discovery phase.
Ms. Gilroy stated that, in her opinion, the committee is within its rights to request some additional documentation. Representative Massey stated that he wants to just see the plain evidence that already exists (Representative Acree's complaint, the answer from Representative Balmer which is due tomorrow (January 8)). Representative Levy reiterated the time lines in House Rule 49 and stated that waiting to get the complaint and then meeting again to decide what evidence to gather, will take the committee close to the 30 day deadline. Ms. Eubanks offered to compile a proposed list of evidence requests, and then bring it to each member for their approval outside of the committee.
Representative Levy asked the committee to make an effort to create its list of requests today, and then set a follow-up meeting date.
Representative Levy discussed a proposed letter for the committee members to sign that would ask the other 60 House members to honor the activities of the House Ethics Committee and refrain from engaging the committee members in conversation about the activities of the committee. The committee members agreed that this letter was a good idea.
Representative Levy asked that the staff report be delivered to the members before the committee's second meeting.
Representative Judd requested that the letter to the other House members asking for limited contact also include a request that they preserve any documentation or information they have related to this inquiry. The committee discussed the dates in December which could be targeted and limited when asking for hard evidence. They determined that the dates to be reviewed would be December 10 through 17.
Representative Levy stated that subsequent requests can be asked for after this committee adjourns, as long as they announce today that this will be allowed. Representative Curry requested knowing when other members ask for additional materials once this committee adjourns today. Ms. Eubanks and Ms. Gilroy stated that they will inform all members if a member requests something additional.
The members decided to meet again at noon on Tuesday, January 20, to receive the staff report which will analyze the evidence received pursuant to the committee's requests. Ms. Eubanks and Ms. Gilroy stated that they will get the actual evidence received to the members upon receipt, but that the staff analysis will be available at the January 20 meeting.
The House Committee on Ethics adjourned.