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Wed, Jan. 29

Ethics Committee to make code of conduct for lawmakers

Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel, left, swears in Republican Steve Pierce on Wednesday to replace former Rep. David Stringer of Prescott who resigned last week following the release of a police report detailing 1983 charges of paying teen boys for sex. (Howard Fischer/Captiol Media Services)

Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel, left, swears in Republican Steve Pierce on Wednesday to replace former Rep. David Stringer of Prescott who resigned last week following the release of a police report detailing 1983 charges of paying teen boys for sex. (Howard Fischer/Captiol Media Services)

PHOENIX — Facing Democrat demands, House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Wednesday finally directed the Ethics Committee to come up with a code of conduct for lawmakers — including whether they can be ousted for their public comments — more than a year after it was first promised.

But it took Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez calling out Republican leadership before there was action. GOP leaders had promised last year to create a committee in the wake of the decision by the House to oust Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, over charges of sexual harassment of other lawmakers and colleagues.

It also came after reporters questioned Bowers about the lack of action to date.

What makes the lack of a code crucial, said Fernandez, is there are no clear guidelines for what makes someone unfit to serve in the Legislature. And she said that should include whether it should cover things that occur elsewhere, like the racially charged remarks made by now-gone Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott to the Republican Men’s Club in Prescott.

But several Democrats already have concluded that such comments should be grounds for discipline — and even expulsion.

“There is a basis to hold people accountable when you make racist statements along the lines that he made,’’ said Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix.

The move came shortly after former Senate President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, was sworn in to replace Stringer who quit suddenly last week in the wake of disclosure of the arrest report. Pierce had been selected earlier in the day by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors.

That appointment finally allows the House to once again resume floor action: Stringer’s resignation left the GOP with just 30 Republicans in the 60-member chamber, an insufficient margin to pass any bill without Democrat cooperation.

“I know there’s a full agenda today,’’ Pierce said moments after being sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel who also is from Prescott. Pierce, who left the Legislature after 2014, said he will serve out the balance of Stringer’s term through the end of 2020.

But the fact that Stringer needed to be replaced only underlined the questions that have been looming at the Capitol for more than a year, since Shooter’s ouster, about legislative conduct. Fernandez said that forming the long-promised committee to craft a code would finally decide what is -- and is not -- acceptable from elected officials.

“Where’s the line?’’ Fernandez said. “I think it’s going to be drawn by our fellow colleagues,’’ with input from members of the public.

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