This year’s Legislature should be remembered as the session of “Why,” as in “Why Bother?” Of course, nobody should be surprised.
My best preview of the “nothing to come” session was visiting with House Speaker Scott Bedke in his office. He took a call, and the conversation went something like this: “I don’t see the Chairman Wood (Health and Welfare Committee) moving away from the health exchange and I don’t see Chairman DeMordaunt (Education) moving away from Common Core. Next question.”
The next question should have been, “Why not bring up those issues?” It would be reasonable for the Legislature to discuss one year after the health exchange was created and to talk about some of the problems that have surfaced. On Common Core, it’s legitimate to ask, “Is this really where we want to go?” Common Core sounds good (like No Child Left Behind), but one of the worries is the execution of government standards for education.
Opposition to Common Core is one of the centerpieces of Russ Fulcher’s campaign for governor. It would have been interesting to hear more of his views on the subject.
Medicaid expansion certainly is a hot topic for discussion, but that horse died well before the session got under way. Proponents, including the Idaho Association of Counties and a leading business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, were pushing for Medicaid expansion as an idea that could save the state millions of dollars in the long run. But the issue apparently was too hot to handle in an election year.
The “going home” bill, for practical purposes, ended up being the one to allow guns on university campuses – with the premise being that universities would be safer places if retired law officers and those with enhanced permits were allowed to carry guns. Let’s pray that the legislators are smarter than the university presidents on that issue.
This session, to me, has created a great argument for biennial sessions. If the governor and legislative leaders are hell-bent on avoiding tough issues during an election year, then why have them at all? Or, maybe they could have 30-day budget sessions every other year.
I talked with former Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes about those ideas last week. As he reminded me, those ideas have been out there for a long times, and practiced many years ago. His view is that short sessions, or no sessions, would lead to more special sessions.
He’s probably right. But I can think of other reasons why the Legislature would want to avoid biennial, or short, sessions.
Boise is a great place to be during the winter, compared with some parts of the state. In most years, there is little snow and spring comes a little earlier than other places. When I worked as a political reporter for the Post Register in Idaho Falls many years ago, I looked forward to getting out of the snow and going to that tropical paradise (by comparison) in Boise.
Legislators receive per diem payments, which help drive up the cost to $30,000 a day. It’s nice work if you can find it, and it’s very easy money – especially in the opening weeks when everybody is getting organized. Legislators also are wined and dined and made to feel like very important people, which is soothing to the egos. For three months of the year, legislators are treated more like Donald Trump than people who make about $16,000 a year.
Serving in the Legislature, officially, is a part-time job. But the lawmakers receive the same health benefits as full-time state employees. It would be much tougher to justify that perk with biennial sessions.
So, don’t look for the Legislature to go for shortened sessions, and you can forget about something as radical as term limits. But it would be nice if the legislators would police themselves.
Caretaker sessions are OK, but they don’t have to run until late March. Wrap up the business in late February or early March. It might take some tweaking in the budget process, which is designed to run at least through mid-March. But if there’s a will, then there’s a way.
Don’t hold your breath for change. The thought is much too conservative by Idaho’s standards.Share on Facebook