Very Late Spring Legislation

Spring has arrived. The cat who settled for a sunny spot by the window last week is now napping on a patio chair. Seed packets cover the kitchen table as the gardener in the family decides what to plant when. And I swear I heard the hungry cries of a baby bird while checking my yard for crocus and daffodils now appearing in friends’ posts.

 So I can’t help hoping that legislators are thinking of the comforts of home and the chores of spring–and planning to leave Boise soon.

The last three legislative sessions adjourned between March 25 and March 29.  Deadlines are set weeks in advance–and delays raised concerns about taxpayer money.

During each of those sessions 345 to 379 bills became law. This year 116 bills have passed both legislative houses and another 135 have passed one.

But maybe that’s all we need.

We’ve got new laws on midwifery and abortion. Pharmacists may soon prescribe some medications. And we now know that electric bikes are bikes, not motorcycles, under Idaho law.

First responders will get mental health care. Historic theaters may serve beer and wine. Teachers will be getting raises.

And some bills popping up now won’t be good for Idaho.

Since the first days of the legislature, we’ve heard that bills to limit Medicaid expansion and make big changes in public school funding were in the works.

So why didn’t we see the bills until March 4 and 13?

That’s late. The legislature’s joint rules for 2019 require that after March 5 legislators deal only with bills that have passed one House

Just the fact that the Republican leadership waived rules for these bills implies an unusual degree of support from them.

Why didn’t the sponsors present their bills earlier?

Sen. Minority Leader Ilana Rubel states it this way. “Throughout this legislative session, transparency and process have deteriorated. Repeatedly, a small group of legislators make decisions about major and impactful legislation behind closed doors, without transparency, without stakeholders, and without the rest of the legislature.”

The sponsors chose to keep a closed door longer than the rules limiting others allow. They wanted to limit the voices supporting Medicaid expansion as it was passed as much as possible.

Similarly, sponsors of the new rules for public school funding obviously didn’t want voters to have time to study the 65 pages of legalese that make up SB 1196. They aim to get a vote before it is clear which districts will be winners and which losers.

Idahoans knew those two bills were coming, but Sen. C. Scott Grow’s bill to make initiatives impossible seemed to appear out of nowhere two weeks ago.

There was no reason to expect it. Idahoans haven’t abused the initiative; only 15 have passed the state’s history.  California has passed eight times as many.

And Idaho’s current signature requirements are definitely stringent enough: Proposition 2 barely made it on the ballot, yet won over 60 percent of the vote.

Freshman Sen. Grow and the hidden powers he represents claim that requiring signatures from 10 percent of the voters in 32 of Idaho’s 35 districts gives more of a voice to rural voters.

Yet, making it impossible to get an initiative on the ballot effectively denies all voters–rural ones included–a chance to vote on measures that matter to the public.

With new bills popping up, it’s hard to remember that the Joint Rules did set a target date for adjournment–March 25.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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