The Republican Chair of the Ethics Committee in the Iowa Senate says he is willing to look at new ethics rules after the departure of the top Senate Republican.
But Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) questioned whether lawmakers can dictate what kind of relationships legislators can have with lobbyists.
Majority Leader Bill Dix, who is married and the father of three children, resigned his leadership post and his Senate seat after photos surfaced of him appearing to kiss a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.
The majority leader has authority over which bills advance in the Senate. News of his personal relationship with a lobbyist raised questions about how legislation may have been influenced.
Sen. Behn says everyone agrees that there should be no undue influence, and no one should be blackmailed. But he questions intervening in such relationships.
“With the practicality of everybody talking to everybody else, and the freedom to come and go and talk to
individuals, it's a good question as to how practical it would be, or how possible it would even be,” Behn said.
A Democratic member of the Ethics Committee disagrees.
“I don't think it should be any different than any other work setting where you do not have personal relationships with a boss or other employee,” said Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque). “It’s time to look at our ethics rules and see if they’re up to speed.”
Sen. Behn said he has no indication that Senator Dix’s relationship with the lobbyist had an effect on what bills got considered.
“I'll be willing to look at it, but I haven't heard of any issues and I haven't seen any issues,” Behn said.
Behn added that the ethics committee’s authority over Sen. Dix ended with his departure.
“With the resignation, that stops everything,” Behn said. “Right now I just want to get our bills finished and get the session moving.”
“I don’t know that anything illegal happened,” added Sen. Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point), who chairs the Senate Oversight Committee.
Breitbach downplays the control the Majority Leader plays over the progress of legislation.
"That's not the way our caucus works,” Breitbach said.