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Eye On Boise

House backs new $200,000 legal fund for the Legislature

The House has voted 53-16 in favor of setting up a $200,000 legal defense fund for the Legislature, funded from the state's general tax funds and controlled by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro-Tem of the Senate. "It is for any time that they should happen to need outside legal counsel," House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told the House. Minority Democrats spoke out against the bill. "This is a really interesting and I think wrong-headed precedent that we're setting here ... and appropriating what's really a significant amount of money," said Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise. "We already have a constitutionally elected officer in an office that handles these matters, and so we pay for that. So to have duplicative efforts like this definitely represents a growth of government, and I don't think it's prudent."

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, debated in favor of the bill, HB 695. "I think as the lawmaking body we ought to have flexibility in where we're going to go to get a legal opinion," Hart told the House. "I think this is very much needed." Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, "We need to have our own counsel, not relying on the executive branch to tell us what's right and what's wrong."

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, called the measure a "slush fund" for the majority's political concerns, and pointed to last year's fight over bills seeking to "nullify" federal laws that the Attorney General said were unconstitutional. That prompted a push for the Legislature to get its own legal counsel.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said he saw a conflict of interest in the Attorney General's office when he proposed legislation regarding investments by the state Land Board, on which the Attorney General serves. "I think there are situations that do arise with a conflict of interest," he said. The bill, which earlier cleared the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote, now moves to the Senate.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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