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Yesterday, today and tomorrow: Quick action on fentanyl bill highlights need for reform

Updated: Jan 26

The Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration committee is making quick work of House Bill 406 - legislation that "adds to existing law to provide for the crimes of trafficking in fentanyl and drug-induced homicide."

The bill was just introduced in committee on Wednesday, officially released to the public in bill form today, and a hearing will be held Friday morning at 9:30am.

Just. Like. That.

Chairman Bruce Skaug told me this afternoon that the bill was moved up because of the concern about weather and travel for legislators. Fair enough. But the public will need to move quickly if they want to have any say.

It will likely be impossible for anyone outside the Treasure Valley to testify in person. Those wishing to offer remote testimony might need to change their schedule on the fly.

This action calls attention to one rule change that we recommended for lawmakers to improve public participation in the legislative process.

To help maximize public involvement in their governance, lawmakers should amend their rules to require at least 3-day public notice of the bills to be heard at public hearings. Providing advance notice of bills scheduled for public hearings is a standard practice among neighboring states. This type of public notice is necessary to allow for meaningful involvement by citizens in the bill hearing process.

The presumption for meaningful public participation in the legislative process is called for in the state constitution. Idaho’s constitution declares:

“All political power is inherent in the people.”

Idaho’s open meetings law says:

“No less than a five (5) calendar day meeting notice and a forty-eight (48) hour agenda notice shall be given unless otherwise provided by statute.”

Several state constitutions also require the text of bills to be publicly available for several days to avoid quick passage toward the end of a session without the opportunity for public involvement. For example:

  • Michigan constitution: “No bill shall be passed or become a law at any regular session of the legislature until it has been printed or reproduced and in the possession of each house for at least five days.”

  • Washington constitution: “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, said vote to be taken by yeas and nays and entered upon the journal, or unless the same be at a special session.”

Whether we are entrepreneurs, parents, students, members of a trade group, or even a lawmaker, it is important to have meaningful public notice of when a bill is going to be available for a public hearing and what the actual text of that proposal is. Only then can we rearrange our schedules, review, and prepare to provide the testimony lawmakers need to help advance good policy for the state.

The bill now up for a public hearing tomorrow may very well be good policy, but the process needs improving.

Requiring at least a 3-day notice of bills scheduled for a public hearing will help improve the information available not only for citizens but also lawmakers, as bills advance through the legislative process.

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