ETHICS RULES WEREN’T BROKEN
Bipartisan committee suggests rewriting regulations to avoid conflicts of interest in future.
Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal broke no ethical rules by taking on clients in a lawsuit against the state and should face no punishment, a legislative panel concluded Tuesday.
But before voting to dismiss the ethics complaint filed by top House Democrats, the bipartisan panel said lawmakers should rewrite ethics rules to prevent potential conflicts of interest in the future.
The complaint against O’Neal, a Republican, stemmed from his work as an attorney representing a coalition of business groups in a lawsuit against the state.
The suit challenges a 2009 legislative decision, which O’Neal opposed, to take funds from professional regulatory bodies to balance the state budget. O’Neal’s clients — the Kansas Bankers Association and the Kansas Association of Realtors, among others — pay dues that support the regulatory bodies.
Tuesday’s decision ends a two-month dispute that both sides said was souring party relations as lawmakers struggle to close a $467 million budget deficit.
Both O’Neal and his critics claimed a measure of vindication.
O’Neal had denied any wrongdoing, noting he followed House rules of conduct that specifically allow attorney-legislators to sue the state. He said he hoped legislators could move on from the complaint, which he said was frivolous.
“It should have been dismissed out-ofhand,” O’Neal said.
Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Paul Davis, had argued it was improper for the House’s most powerful member to sue the state on behalf of special interest groups.
Davis said he was pleased the ethics panel recommended changing House rules to prohibit attorneys serving in the Legislature from suing the state.
“The committee issued a very strong statement that the kind of conduct the speaker is engaged in should not be permitted,” said Davis, an attorney. “Those are exactly the concerns that caused us to bring this complaint.” To reach David Klepper, call 785-354-1388 or send e-mail to dklep[email protected]star.com.
Fine springtime weather provided a break between classes for students at the Kansas City Art Institute. Laurel Trumble (right), of Bartlesville, Okla., laughed as she and Will Meier of Dallas soaked up sunbeams Tuesday. More sunshine is expected today,...