House Ethics Rules Would Exclude Media Reports

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Members of a legislative panel working to set up new House ethics rules agreed Wednesday that they don't want complaints to be filed based on media reports.

The proposed rules that advanced to a full floor vote would require at least one independent source other than "newspaper or other media" reports.

"I would not want it based on media accounts," said Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis and chairman of the House Ethics Committee. "I want to make sure of that, because otherwise you'll be having a hearing just about every week."

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol argued that a proposed requirment for a person to have some personal knowledge of alleged ethics violations before filing a complaint would make it more difficult to file legitimate complaints.

He cited as an example the 2007 drunken driving arrest of then-House Judiciary Chairman Rob Briley after police said he took them on a 100-mph chase. That case was covered closely in the media, but Mumpower argued that if an ethics violation "can't be based from what you saw on TV, then in that case no complaint could be filed."

No ethics complaint was filed in that case, and Briley didn't seek re-election in 2008.

But Democrats on the panel said they want to prevent frivolous complaints based on unreliable information or a personal vendetta between lawmakers.

They cited former Rep. Brian Kelsey's ethics complaint last year against House Speaker Kent Williams that claimed he sexually harassed another GOP lawmaker. The ethics panel unanimously refused to take up Kelsey's complaint that was based on two-year old allegations.

The Germantown Republican's own ethics were called into question when news accounts revealed that Kelsey in a text message had offered to tone down attacks against Williams in exchange for a committee chairmanship.

"The check we need to have in place in here is so that we don't have one member going after another member," said House Minority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin said Kelsey's complaint was based on a blog post, and that the rules approved by the panel on Wednesday would prevent a repeat of that scenario.

"We now say you can't do that," he said.

Casada unsuccessfully sought to remove the language requiring personal knowledge from the proposed rules. He said that he wanted to keep the previous rules for filing complaints.

"I don't understand the fear and consternation here," Casada said.

"We've had bribery and DUIs and on and on, and I have yet to see any of those folks come before the Ethics Committee," he said. "I think what we have in place has worked quite well."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.