Updated: Jul 21
The Idaho House and Senate worked throughout the session on a bill that would provide major property tax relief to the citizens of the state. It has been one of the major topics of discussion since January – and before. The final product was indeed large and difficult to understand. But it was a compromise, and it received overwhelming approval in both chambers.
Governor Brad Little, however, vetoed the legislation (HB 292) on Monday. He was concerned that the bill was a “hodgepodge.” Among the many parts of the legislation, there was the removal of March school bond and levy elections. The Governor said he was also concerned about how the bill would impact transportation projects around the state.
Both chambers had a veto-proof majority vote in favor of the legislation – 63-7 in the House and 32-3 in the Senate. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to see such furious action on Monday afternoon in the state Senate to drop the legislation altogether. Instead, lawmakers removed many of the Governor’s objections by placing new language in House Bill 198, and immediately took up the legislation on the Senate floor.
Few legislators actually had the chance to read through the bill and consider the changes. The public, certainly, did not have a chance to read the legislation either. Nevertheless, it passed 32-3.
Monday’s action is a stark reminder about the need for legislators to be further committed to transparency. It has not been unusual this legislative session to see public hearings with little notice, public hearing times changed at the last moment, and now this. It is understandable that legislators feel pressure to get their work done, but it cannot come at the expense of transparency and meaningful involvement from the citizens of the state.
How can legislators increase transparency? Here are a few recommendations that were proposed in other states that are worth considering:
All bills introduced, and any proposed substitute, striking amendment, or conference committee report thereon, must be made publicly available to the members of the legislature and the public at least 72 hours before the bill is eligible for a public hearing, legislative action, or to be voted on by the senate or the house of representatives.
At least 72 hours notice must be given of all public hearings held by any legislative committee. Such notice shall contain the date, time, and place of the hearing together with the title and number of each bill, or identification of the subject matter, to be considered at the hearing.
No bill is eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.
No bill is eligible for legislative action on the floor of either the senate or house of representatives until for 48 hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.
No bill is eligible for final passage in either house of the legislature unless copies of the bill, in the final form to be passed, have been made available to the members of that house of the legislature and the public for at least 24 hours.
It is important to remember that under Idaho’s constitution “all political power is inherent in the people.” Moving at the speed of light may be good for space travel but it makes for a poor public process when enacting laws. Citizens, the media, and lawmakers themselves must have adequate time to review, understand, and perfect laws before they are adopted.
UPDATE (3/28): The Idaho House rejected the new Senate bill on Tuesday morning.