So you’ve been hearing a lot about the Idaho Legislature this year - or at least, if you’re an Idahoan, you should have.
You may not like much of what you’ve heard, or maybe you do. But maybe you’d like to decide for yourself: Cut out the middleman.
Fair enough. I’m here to help. One incontrovertibly good thing we should agree on when it comes to the Idaho Legislature is this: They have made it easy to learn what they’re doing and what their members are saying. Behind the scenes lobbying and negotiating remains hard to get at, true (though lobbying reports and campaign finance documents, online at the Secretary of State’s office, are an underused resource). But a lot of useful material is available for those who want to use it.
It’s easy to track down the basics about how legislation passes through the session, who sponsors it, what it is purported to be about and what it actually says, and - critically - exactly what legislators have said about it, as well as how they voted.
All the pieces of legislation introduced this session are included in something called the “minidata” (named for a daily-produced pamphlet traditionally printed on a folded sheet of paper) located online at legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2023/legislation/minidata/.
Let’s run down the list and grab one: House Bill 124, which concerns voter identification. Here you can see the text of the bill (it’s not terribly hard to follow), and a statement of purpose, along with a note identifying the sponsor (in this case, a House member and a senator). Also important, it notes the chronology of the bill’s progress: Where it started, what committees and chamber floors it reaches and on what day, and how the members voted (and when) on the floor.
Those dates are important if you want to check out what legislators actually said and did beyond their floor votes. This matters because the legislature, on its website, stores video of much of its action going back to 2013, for not only floor sessions but also many committee meetings. You don’t have to be at the Statehouse to see exactly how all the debate and activity unfolded: It was captured on video, which you can watch at home.
Let’s follow HB 124, the voter ID bill. We know from the bill’s link in the minidata that it was introduced on February 13; since the bill’s author is listed as “by the State Affairs Committee,” you know it was introduced by that panel on that day. If you go to the “media archive” page on the legislature’s site, you can navigate to the committee you need (or the House or Senate floor) and find not only the agenda and the minutes for that meeting, but also downloadable video from it. You can do this for every session in the last decade.
If there was further debate on the bill in the committee, that probably would have happened on February 16, and you can look up that meeting too. (If you don’t want to watch the whole meeting, you can check where the bill in question was handled in either the agenda or the minutes, and go to that point in the meeting.)
Floor votes often are good places - at least in the case of relatively controversial bills - for pulling out the flow of arguments about specific legislation, spotlighting what specific legislators said (in context), and watching the video of those debates (in the case of our bill, that would mean the House floor action on February 20) is a good place to do that. (A personal note: I developed most of last week’s column, on a different bill, by doing exactly this.)
You can follow the process through the opposing chamber (if the legislation gets that far, as this one did).
If you want the whole, unfiltered story, it’s available, courtesy of the legislature.
I’ve long wondered: What would happen in Idaho legislative elections if large numbers of voters actually followed through and watched their legislators in action? How many would survive?