Rep. Priscilla Giddings censured, removed from legislative committee by Idaho House

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A North Idaho lawmaker will be removed from a legislative committee over her actions when a sexual assault allegation came forward against a former Republican lawmaker.

House members on Monday voted 49-19 to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, after she shared a far-right outlet’s article that identified a 19-year-old legislative intern who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape. Giddings will be removed from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which oversees laws around state employees.

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, said the committee “did the right thing under very difficult circumstances,” and that the House is constitutionally obligated to maintain decorum and encourage “becoming” behavior of a legislator.

“I support the responsibility that we bear as a body to make decisions about the behavior of our members,” Marshall said on the floor. “I watched the proceedings. I believe the committee acted honorably, honestly and forthright and provided many opportunities for justice to be served.”

Giddings defended herself and said she didn’t regret any of her actions.

“I would not have done anything differently. I think my intention is pure,” Giddings said on the floor. “I know that nothing I said here today … is going to change your mind. So vote your conscience and we will move forward, and I will continue to fight for freedom.”

Ethics complaint alleges Giddings defamed 19-year-old accuser of sexual assault

In August, the Ethics and House Policy Committee unanimously recommended that Giddings be censured after members held a hearing about her actions during a sexual assault allegation.

An ethics complaint, supported by 25 House members, alleged that Giddings defamed the 19-year-old legislative intern. The complaint also said she misrepresented her actions to the ethics committee while under oath. Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said she was the chief complainant.

Before the ethics hearing against von Ehlinger, Giddings shared a Redoubt News article that identified the legislative intern.

Committee members also said Giddings exhibited a pattern of dishonesty and disrespect to her colleagues in her testimony, both in August and during the previous ethics hearing against von Ehlinger.

Legislators in August said anyone should feel comfortable to bring a sexual assault allegation forward without fear of backlash. Committee members also said they wanted to set an example and send a message that House members are held to a higher standard.

Throughout the ethics hearing against von Ehlinger, committee members attempted to keep the accuser’s identity private. They referred to her as “Jane Doe,” and she testified behind a black curtain in the Lincoln Auditorium in the Idaho Capitol.

The ethics hearing over Giddings’ actions included testimony from several Republican legislators, including Reps. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell; Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell; and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa.

“Candidly, it pains me to have to punish you,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, an ethics committee member, said in August. “But current and future legislators will look at the actions of this committee, and I hope our action will serve as a guideline as to what conduct is expected of legislators.”

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, who chairs the ethics committee, told the Idaho Statesman on Monday he was happy that the legislators went through the process “the way it was designed to be,” regardless of the outcome.

In a statement after the vote, the House Republican Caucus shifted focus to fighting the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, in a statement said the vote on Giddings’ ethics matter was one that needed to be addressed before finishing this year’s legislative session.

“My hope is that we can now all come together over the next several days to block the latest attempt of federal overreach by the Biden administration,” Bedke said in a statement.

House members launch attacks against ethics committee members, process

In a tense discussion on the House floor, a group of legislators defended Giddings. Some listed her military honors as a testament to her character. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, accused the committee of “attacking” or “going after” Giddings and criticized the committee for hiring outside legal counsel in its investigation.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, objected to Bedke controlling the debate on Giddings’ ethics report, because he is an opponent of hers in the race for lieutenant governor. Claps from Giddings’ supporters broke out in the gallery as Bedke called for order.

A handful of House members said they believed the ethics committee process should be rewritten, and Giddings shouldn’t be punished over sharing information on social media. Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said she was concerned about the chilling effect it would have on state legislators.

“I am concerned that what we will do here will have ramifications on our future abilities to communicate,” Ehardt said. She said she believes the process was enough punishment for Giddings.

Nate accused committee members of voting to censure Giddings because she didn’t show enough “deference” to the process. Legislators objected to Nate and Scott several times as they spoke.

“It appears that this committee has been weaponized to go after political opponents,” Nate said.

Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said he considered how he would feel if one of his children were treated in the same way the legislative intern was. The vast majority of the House, he said, “didn’t need to be told that it was wrong” to share the accuser’s information. “We just knew it.”

House Democrats in a statement said they supported the vote, which comes after an “exhaustive investigation,” and believed representatives should be held accountable for their actions.

“What happened to Jane Doe after she came forward is inexcusable,” the Democratic Caucus said. “That behavior cannot be tolerated here — or anywhere. We must do more to create an environment for safe, supportive reporting by survivors within the Capitol and beyond.”