Can Idaho’s Legislative Process be Restored?
Idaho’s 64th legislative session kicks off next week and many Idahoans are unaware of the onslaught of new laws that will be presented. Last year it was reported that 785 pieces of legislation were drafted, 540 were allowed to be introduced as bills, and 337 became law. Nearly 90% of those bills were developed by executive agencies: expanding regulations and license requirements, increasing taxes, and generally growing government. Meanwhile, issues important to Idaho citizens were mysteriously hidden in “shredder drawers” and not allowed to go through the normal legislative process.
As it stands currently in Idaho, the Speaker of the House controls which bills go forward. He also appoints committee chairmen. This gives him wide latitude to choose the bills he likes and to influence the chairmen to do his bidding. This practice came to a head on the House chamber floor on March 8, 2017. The video archive is available at idahoptv.org (under the Idaho Legislature Media Archive site). During that session several representatives rose to debate serious concerns over the top-down process that eliminated certain bills from being heard by lawmakers. The leadership argued vehemently in favor of protecting the status quo and maintaining their control over the bill process. The bottom-up process would be the representative republic model for allowing the people’s ideas to be heard.
After the problem of dumping bills was dramatically exposed last year, the Speaker of the House publicly promised he would allow all constituent proposals be given initial print hearings during the coming session. I traveled throughout district 7 asking for legislative ideas. So far, I have a handful ready to go through the legislative process – let’s see how far they get.
Here is a brief summary of each:
The first legislative proposal came from a constituent who was audited for his aviation business. During the audit he discovered that the Idaho State Tax Commissioners have 6 months to determine if he, the taxpayer, followed Idaho code. Due to a high number of audits, the commissioners usually have to use the entire 6 months before issuing their judgment, and if the taxpayer is found in violation he has to pay interest for the 6 months that it took for the judgment. This bill would prevent additional interest from being incurred during the tax commission’s judgment process.
The second legislative proposal came from a 100% disabled veteran who is having a difficult time paying his ever-increasing property taxes. Existing law allows a flat rate reduction in property tax for disabled veterans, but the reduction does not increase along with tax hikes. This bill would provide additional property tax relief for 100% disabled veterans.
The third proposal came from a member of the armed forces who is an Idaho resident but currently serves out-of-state. Since he is an Idaho resident, the law allows him to vote in Idaho as an absentee voter. However, the law does not allow his wife to vote as an absentee voter, effectively silencing her vote. The state they currently work in does not allow her to vote there because she does not meet the residency requirements of that state. This bill would allow spouses of Idaho service members the right to vote in their home state of Idaho.
The fourth legislative proposal was initiated by concerns from constituents who found out that Idaho taxpayers pay millions of dollars for lobbyists for public institutions including colleges and universities. They didn’t think it was right for lobbyists representing the interests of their schools or any other publicly funded institutions to be funded by Idahoans. This bill would stop Idaho’s public institutions from using taxpayer money to pay lobbyists.
I am working on a handful of other bills suggested by constituents and would welcome your suggestions for pieces of future legislation. If the legislature can restore the process of allowing bills by the people to be presented and voted on and not just have new laws being pushed down through government agencies, it will be a big improvement on the legislative process, and a great New Year for us all.
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