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House committee to probe allegations of ethics violation



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Utah legislators are about to take a close look at a fellow lawmaker. A House committee will hold a meeting centered on Rep. Mark Walker for possible ethics violations.

The House Ethics Committee will hold a special meeting July 7. The focus will be on whether Walker did anything wrong in that primary race for state treasurer.

A formal question of ethics within the House chamber is rare, but in a formal complaint, the lawmakers pushing the issue feel it's important.

House committee to probe allegations of ethics violation

"I think there is compelling enough information that to not investigate it, or not to request it, would be a breech of my voters, my constituents," said Rep. Steve Mascaro, a Republican from West Jordan.

Mascaro says there are signed statements and e-mails that back up the breech of ethics claim.

In a nutshell, the claim says that -- with the nod from legislative leadership, party officials or both -- Walker offered to double deputy treasurer Richard Ellis' salary if he would drop out of the race.

The attorney general referred a separate, criminal complaint to an independent county attorney.

If the ethics committee decides something was improper, it refers the finding to the full House. A super majority, two-thirds of the House, then has to agree. After that, penalties range from a dock in pay to removal from office.

But aside from penalties, Rep. Roz McGee wants to show the public that lawmakers are serious about ethics. "As an office holder, as a legislator, it is embarrassing the low level of confidence and respect that the public has for the Utah Legislature. And by legislators themselves using the process to hold others to account, we have the possibility of raising respect for the body," he said.

The House Ethics Committee will now have a chance to do what it is set up for, but rarely does: investigate a colleague for wrongdoing. The committee could invoke subpoena powers, if necessary, to get answers to its questions starting next week.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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Richard Piatt

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