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The House Ethics Committee revealed it was investigating the conduct of U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, a Weatherford car dealer who drafted an amendment that would have exempted his industry from a safety requirement and benefited his own company.
Williams’ apparent conflict of interest was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity in November and led to a formal complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, DC legal watchdog.
In a brief press release, the House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it had “decided to expand the case regarding ‘Williams,’ which was “referred to the committee by the Congressional Ethics Office on May 13, 2016”.
The Congressional Ethics Office is a nonpartisan organization that reviews complaints against members. The press release revealed for the first time publicly that the misconduct allegations against Williams were being reviewed by the House Ethics Committee.
The committee will announce its “action plan” no later than August 11.
The amendment was proposed as part of a larger transport bill. Offered just before midnight on November 11, 2015, it would have allowed car dealerships to lease or lend vehicles even if they were subject to safety recalls. Car rental companies, meanwhile, would not receive the same treatment. The measure passed the House of Representatives, but after the Center wrote about it, the Williams proposal died in the conference process between the House and Senate.
In the complaint, the Campaign Legal Center requested a review and also recommended changes to clarify House rules regarding recusal and member conflicts of interest.
The house’s code of conduct generally prohibits a member from taking any official action that could benefit their financial interests. Officially, a member cannot receive compensation when “receipt thereof would occur by virtue of influence improperly exercised from that person’s position in Congress.”
The House Ethics Manual states that “whenever a Member is considering taking such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests”, he should contact the House Ethics Committee for guidance. tips.
It’s unclear whether Williams sought such advice. Vince Zito, Williams’ spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment or respond to an email asking if Williams wanted such a review.
The car rental provision in the legislation, which was also in the Senate version, was boosted by the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, ages 24 and 20. The two sisters were killed in 2004 while driving a recalled rented vehicle that caught fire and crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer, according to consumer groups who backed the rental car proposal .
Williams’ amendment would have made the law apply only to companies whose “primary” business is car rental, effectively excluding dealerships. No such provision existed in the Senate bill.
Williams is president of Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM SRT in Weatherford. In his remarks on the House floor, Williams said the bill is bad for small businesses.
“Vehicles would be grounded for weeks or months over minor compliance issues like an airbag warning sticker that could peel off the sun visor or an incorrect phone number printed in the owner’s manual,” did he declare.
However, Democratic Representative Lois Capps of California disagreed with this reasoning.
“This is ridiculous. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not issue frivolous recalls,” she said. “All safety recalls pose serious safety risks and should be addressed as soon as possible. as possible.”
Although Williams’ amendment did not pass, a House-Senate conference committee ruled that instead of exempting car dealerships from the requirement, it would exempt rental fleets of 35 cars or less . This provision was included in the broader transport bill and signed into law in December.
Williams did not respond directly to requests for comment from the Center, but released a statement Monday to the McClatchy News Service via Zito.
Williams, he said, proposed the amendment “precisely because of his vast knowledge and experience in the automotive industry and because he chose to apply some common sense to legislation specifically designed to regulate car rental companies”.
He continued: “The House’s long-standing precedents have not revealed that members are bound to refrain from legislating which affects a broad class of individuals and businesses.”
A spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment. The penalty for violating house rules can include a formal reprimand, censure, or even expulsion. Each action would require a vote of the entire House.
Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a group that advocates vehicle safety, strongly criticized Williams’ driving. Shahan said she hopes news of the committee’s review “sends a message that lawmakers should represent the public, not their own self-interests.”
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