Despotism in Idaho?
By Rep. Priscilla Giddings
As a new legislator, I anticipated the onslaught of new information during my first term. I was definitely NOT expecting the lack of professionalism or to be patronized, bullied, strong-armed, verbally threatened or called a “liar” and “crazy.” Apparently, the viciousness of the national political scene has worked its way into Idaho, and so too has the need to “Drain the Swamp” in Boise. So each day, I have found it critical and necessary to stand on principles of integrity, courage, and character to make tough decisions about the environment where I now work. Three months later, I find myself dismayed by the arrogant hyperbole that is substituted for integrity, transparency, and accountability. Maybe my words seem harsh, but are absolutely true. We all have our work cut out for us!
This past week as I witnessed what I consider the abuse of power inside the legislature, I took a stand.
Art III, Section 15 of the Idaho Constitution says, “On the final passage of all bills, they shall be read at length, section by section.” Speaker Bedke fails to enforce this law daily for convenience’s sake. I used a common practice and asked for the Constitution to be adhered to by having HB209 read. This particular bill is unique because it was the first bill presented this year by the Uniform Law Commission. The ULC is a certified United Nations NGO that consists of lawyers from all over the country. ULC laws are written for national and international compliance and once passed cannot be amended like other laws in Idaho. During the committee hearing on the bill, the Deputy Attorney General said he did not know if litigation regarding this bill would be conducted in the US or a UN court. Even though he was asked to provide that information to legislators before the final committee vote, he failed to do so. I guess we had to pass the bill before we would know what would be in it.
Speaker Bedke and the Majority Leader, Mike Moyle instead used my simple request of reading the bill to step-up their hazing of a freshman legislator. They conducted a “call of the house” which consists of a complete lock down of the chambers, something that has not been done in more than 11 years and is only supposed to be used to get legislators to return to their desks (all but 2 were already present). Representative Kelley Packer, who will be running for the Lt Governor in 2018, rose to ask me to read the bill instead of the clerk, something that has never been done in the history of Idaho. Although I was not required to comply, I gladly agreed to read the bill to alert legislators who probably hadn’t read it and for fellow Idahoans, who need to know that laws are being passed here in Idaho that are turning over Idaho jurisdiction to international agencies. If we let the ULC write all of our laws, for the sake of convenience and consistency, we won’t need legislators anymore. This revealed how easily one man, Speaker Bedke, is willing to bypass the laws of the Constitution, intimidate legislators and assert his power as a despot.
If the ULC is writing our Idaho laws, who else is involved in writing our laws? Based on my observations, about 90% of the 1500 pieces of draft legislation are written by executive agencies and the associated lobbyists with varying motivations. There are approximately 400 lobbyists in Idaho – that is a 4 to 1 ratio to legislators. The remaining 10% of bills are legislator’s ideas representing their constituents. Is that because legislators don’t have more bills, or because Speaker Bedke chooses which ideas get to become bills?
Last week, March 8, the legislature had a fascinating debate on the House floor addressing this question. The issue was about the current practice of committee chairmen selectively picking some bills for hearings while holding others in their “shredder” drawer likely based on Speaker Bedke’s wishes. I have received hundreds of emails from frustrated citizens who watch bills they care about get stalled and sent to the “shredder” without a word of debate or explanation. Gun rights are held, disabled veterans property tax relief is held, grocery tax exemption is held, a short-term rental policy is held, alcohol license reform is held, and the list goes on and on. None of these proposals have ever been presented to a committee for legislators to voice their opinions. There is a House procedural rule, #45, that allows legislators to request that a bill in the “shredder” be pulled onto the house floor for a vote, and on Wednesday someone did just that, and the debate that ensued was earth shattering. The debate was essentially about whether legislation should be a top-down process controlled by the House leadership, or bottom-up process where the people get to have their voices heard. Only 13 representatives out of the 70 voted to support the people in a bottom up legislative process. Those who voted for top-down control, used arguments such as “this protects the members” and we should “follow the process” and that this would cause “sheep to jump off a cliff” and cause “anarchy” in the House of Representatives. Sadly, despotism won the battle 57-13.
I will continue to stand for principles of integrity, transparency, and accountability, but your help is needed because within the legislature these principles are not a high priority. Idaho needs to establish standards adhering to the State Constitution and providing a fair method for legislation to move forward before we can come together as a state to fix big problems such as education and Medicaid reform. One thing I have learned so far during this session is that when the voters actively speak, legislators are afraid not to listen.
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