The freshly minted Select Committee on Senate Ethics held its first meeting Thursday and elected its leadership. The Senate last week approved rule changes creating the committee to hear and investigate claims of corruption. Its formation comes on the heels of federal investigations that have led to five former lawmakers being convicted.
State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, was confirmed as chair. She says good ethics rules aren’t partisan.
"This is really about the office of the Senate, not about the person that holds that office. That’s a neutral territory, that’s not a partisan issue," said Irvin.
But Irvin cautions that she has a limit on how onerous new rules might be.
"I think the biggest thing that’s on people’s minds is, ‘how do we do this and maintain a citizen legislature where people can from all walks of life feel like they want to run for office?’"
State Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, is one of three members of his party on the eight-member ethics committee. He says there’s work to be done in the weeks ahead to refine disclosure rules.
"I think what we’re all about is trying to make the public feel better about our processes and trying to be sure that we are accountable. And there’s a path to see, ‘well, Teague did this, why did he do that? Did he have an interest in it?’" Teague continued, "Then we’ll be able to look at the forms and come back and say, ‘here’s his interest, but he disclosed it so it’s okay.’"
But Teague, doesn’t think the new rules would have stopped the criminal behavior of some of his former colleagues.
"I don’t think any of the changes we’ve done would have stopped anything from happening that’s happened. If folks want to figure a way to, do whatever, then there’s probably a way to get around whatever rules there are," said Teague.
The ethics body plans to meet in late July to clarify rules and make revisions based on member feedback.