By a unanimous vote, a special House committee dismissed a conduct complaint filed by House Democrats against Republican Speaker Mike O’Neal.
The committee — made of three Republicans and three Democrats — reported to the full House Tuesday and said that O’Neal had not broken any state law or legislative rules when he filed a complaint against the state over fees paid to state agencies.
“Basically, because according to the House rules and the statutes, he didn't break any of the rules,” said State Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, a member of the special committee. “It’s hard to punish someone if they didn't break the rules. He may have bent them, but he didn't break them.”
House Democrat leaders contended that a conflict of interest was created when O’Neal — a Hutchinson attorney — filed a suit, which is still pending in Shawnee County District Court. The claim stated that O’Neal could use his power as speaker to control legislation that could benefit his clients.
After the report was issued, O’Neal said that it was good “to have it over with.”
In the suit, O’Neal represents businesses, insurance funds and trade groups who are suing the state because funds were taken by legislators in 2002 and 2003, but repayment of those funds were delayed in 2009.
However, the committee did not completely admonish O’Neal. House Minority Leader Paul Davis told the Associated Press that the committee was clear that what O’Neal was doing gives the public a bad impression of lawmakers.
“I think the committee made a very clear statement, a bipartisan statement, that the kind of activity that the speaker's engaged in should not be permitted,” said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat to the AP.
In the report, the committee ruled that O’Neal did not break any Kansas law, or those of the Legislature, but that his actions “gives the appearance of misconduct because of his leadership position.”
“They [House Democrats] filed the complaint because they thought there was something wrong,” Grant said. “But, we just couldn't find anything he did that broke the rules.”
In addition, the report gave recommendations to the House such as legislators should amend Kansas statutes to remove language that permits lawmakers from filing litigation against the state. Another recommendation was that the Legislature adopt a code of conduct to govern its member’s actions.
“I think it would be unfortunate. But I think it's worthy of discussion,” O'Neal told the AP.
Grant said that he stands behind the committee’s recommendations.
“I'm satisfied that we did a good job in the committee,” Grant said. “The recommendations we made to the full House, I feel, were sufficient even though we dismissed the charges.”
However, he said that he would rather not be this up close and personal with a situation like this again.
“I can't win the lottery, but I get picked for these beauties,” Grant said.