Topeka A select committee on Monday started an investigation into a complaint of misconduct against Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.
“We’re doing something that has never been done in the state of Kansas,” said state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings.
The committee of three Republicans and three Democrats was appointed earlier Monday by House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.
House Democratic leaders filed a complaint, alleging O’Neal has acted improperly by representing, as an attorney, a group of businesses and trade associations in a class action lawsuit against the state.
The lawsuit challenges a budget action taken by the Legislature last year to balance the state budget. O’Neal has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is allowed to represent clients who challenge the state.
The committee chairman, state Rep. Clark Shultz, R-Shultz, said he hoped that by Wednesday the panel would decide whether to dismiss the complaint or continue further hearings. “This is extremely unusual,” he said of the proceedings. He vowed to run the committee meetings “fair and open.”
The committee spent Monday getting briefed by legislative staff members on what it can do. The panel has the power to subpoena witnesses and it will take four votes to approve anything.
The committee could recommend dismissal of the complaint, or reprimand, censure or expulsion from the House.
Committee members were cordial with each other, but hit a snag when Schultz said he wanted committee members to refrain from talking about the investigation with anyone involved in the complaint, which would include O’Neal and the six House Democratic leaders who signed the complaint.
Democrats on the committee said it would be difficult to avoid discussing the issue with their leaders. But state Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, and vice chairman of the committee, said he would not talk to anyone about the committee proceedings and will walk away if he hears the issue being discussed. “We are judging another member. We need to take this serious,” Holmes said.