Good government gets a boost

November 11, 2011

On Wednesday the Speaker of the House appointed a standing ethics committee in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. While ad hoc, special committees have been appointed at various times, to my knowledge a standing committee tasked with internal ethics issues has not existed in Oklahoma’s history. As evidenced by the recent investigation in the House, it is time to pursue a more comprehensive effort against ethical lapses.

The Oklahoma Constitution provides direct authority to each chamber of the Legislature to impose internal discipline when members stray from the path of good conduct. Article V, Section 30 allows each respective chamber to determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, actually expel a sitting member.

While several reasons exist for this power, internal oversight is authorized because even if conduct is not criminal, it could be unethical or perhaps just reflect poorly on the reputation of the body in question. Whether or not the allegations of misconduct recently investigated in the House of Representatives result in a criminal conviction, few persons would argue that such activities, if proven, are ethical, appropriate, or honorable to the reputation of the Oklahoma Legislature.

A standing ethics committee will establish better accountability within the House of Representatives and will hopefully result in better behavior on the part of members tempted to engage in inappropriate activities. Likewise, the Oklahoma Senate should establish a standing ethics committee charged with similar duties. The people of Oklahoma expect ethical behavior in government and in light of recent problems, a standing ethics committee is a good start.