After former House Speaker David Gowan got caught using state fleet vehicles for his own personal and campaign purposes, he changed the House rules to encourage all lawmakers to use state fleet vehicles for their travels.
But new House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he plans to repeal those rules Gowan implemented and — with help from a bipartisan committee — come up with a new set of rules to govern how lawmakers are reimbursed for their travel expenses.
As a stopgap measure while the committee works out the details, Mesnard has introduced HB2227, which would tie lawmakers’ reimbursement rates to the federal reimbursement rate, meaning lawmakers would get an additional 9 cents per mile.
Mesnard noted that every member of both House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership has signed on as cosponsors of his bill.
But as that bill works its way through the Legislature, Mesnard has also tasked T.J. Shope, his speaker pro tem and chairman of the House Committee on Administration, with reviewing the policies Gowan put in place and coming up with something better.
First of all, Mesnard said he wants to disallow lawmakers from using state fleet vehicles in most cases. Lawmakers would be allowed to use the vehicles if they were taking several staff members on a trip with them, Mesnard said, because it’s actually more cost effective than paying out mileage reimbursement to several people.
“We want to do the cheap thing, but we want to do the honest thing too,” he said.
In 2016, the Arizona Capitol Times published a report detailing how use of state fleet vehicles had skyrocketed under Gowan’s administration.
That sparked a still-ongoing investigation from Attorney General Mark Brnovich into whether Gowan had illegally used the fleet vehicles to travel Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, where Gowan was campaigning at the time.
Gowan also repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles (but reported as taking in his own vehicle) and per diem pay for days he had claimed to work, but didn’t.
Former House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, now a senator, was also forced to repay the American Legislative Exchange Council for a travel stipend he received from the conservative organization after the Capitol Times reported that he had actually used a state fleet vehicle, and not his own car, to attend the event in San Diego.
Following that Capitol Times’ report, Gowan overhauled the House travel policy to encourage all lawmakers to use state fleet vehicles.
But Shope, who has been charged with leading the committee that will draft the new House travel rules, said Gowan’s unilateral move to change the House travel policy would set other lawmakers up to run into the same problems Gowan did.
“Obviously the attorney general has a report coming out soon, and we want to be proactive,” he said.
Besides, Gowan never sought input from lawmakers about his new rules, which Shope described as “a radical change in policy.”
“That was a major change to do by executive fiat,” he said.
Shope touted the fact that the new rules will be drafted by a bipartisan committee with input from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and within full view of the public.
“Just by doing that, I think we’ll be much more open and transparent than the previous administration,” he said.
Gowan did not return a call for comment.