Despite last year’s promise, Legislature still has no code of conduct

Nearly a year after Arizona legislative leaders promised a code of conduct would be adopted to hold members’ actions accountable, no such code has emerged. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – In the wake of several behavior scandals, the Arizona Legislature pledged last session to adopt a code of conduct in order to hold members more accountable for their actions in office.

Nearly a year later, that code doesn’t exist. Republican leaders say it’s still in the works, but is it?

“The House Ethics Committee will be drafting recommendations on the House member code of conduct and presenting those recommendations to the full House for approval,” Matthew Specht, director of communications for the House Republican Caucus, said in an email Feb. 11. “The member code of conduct will be adopted as a House rule change.”

The committee’s purpose statement says the members are tasked to “propose and adopt during the first regular legislative session a code of ethics … as part of rules and to issue advisory opinions interpreting the code of ethics.”

However, the House Ethics Committee has only met twice, according to its website, since then-House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and former Senate President Steve Yarbrough, both R-Chandler, promised last winter to appoint bipartisan committees to write new rules. Neither agenda from those meetings mentions such new rules.

In response, Specht said in an email that “the House Ethics Committee hasn’t yet indicated when they expect to finish drafting those recommendations.”

House Minority Leader David Bradley believes this issue shouldn’t be hard to solve.

“I don’t think it’s all that complicated, I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel,” Bradley said. “I think there are standards out there that we can apply and we can adapt to … we just need the energies to do it.”

The Senate Ethics Committee lists only a Feb. 11 meeting on its website, but there’s no mention of new conduct rules on the agenda.

The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, did not respond to questions from Cronkite News.

“It’s really important that our state leaders are making sure that there [are] clear guidelines for behavior for elected officials and that those are being enforced in an equitable manner,” said Diane Brown, executive director of Arizona Public Interest Research Group. Arizona PIRG calls itself “an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest” and fights for government transparency and accountability.

“It’s important that those rules are enforced and that also there are nonpartisan or bipartisan efforts to really investigate … and that the individual who is being accused has the right to be seen as innocent until proven guilty,” Brown said.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, the House minority whip, called for the expulsion of fellow Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, on Jan. 28 after new documents revealed accusations of sex crimes against Stringer from the 1980s. The House recessed before an expulsion vote could be held.

“What we do know is that it’s important to make sure people are held accountable and the people who elected us know that they have people fighting for them,” Bolding said.

Stringer has not stepped down despite calls from fellow Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey, who said Stringer had “basically disqualified himself from leading at the state level” after Stringer made racially charged comments about immigrants last summer.

“By ensuring there is an independent body … that can review allegations … that would really be most helpful in getting some of the politics out of each potential allegation and to better get to the truth of the matter,” Brown said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Matthew Specht, director of communications for the House Republicans. The story has been corrected, but clients who used earlier versions are asked to run the correction that can be found here.

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