ETHICS RULES WEREN’T BRO­KEN

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - LOCAL - By DAVID KLEP­PER

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.

O’Neal

AL­LI­SON LONG | THE KANSAS CITY STAR

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,...

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