When Idaho’s legislative session opened this year, two participating members, one senator and one representative, hadn’t been elected. They hadn’t been appointed to office, either. They’d just been tabbed as temporary substitutes for two North Idaho lawmakers who were out due to temporary health issues. In fact, since this year’s session began, seven Idaho lawmakers have named temporary substitutes for anywhere from three days to three weeks. In the past five years, there’ve been 36 substitute lawmakers casting votes and debating bills, a few for much of the session. Idaho’s the only state that allows this to happen.
“I think this is about keeping your constituents represented,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who named his wife Sarah to fill in for him after he was seriously injured in a ranching accident in March of 2011. “In a part-time, citizen legislature, life happens while we’re here.” Said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, “The whole point is if you’re not here, your district is going unrepresented. … I think it’s a great tradition.” Said Hill, “We’re the only state that does a lot of good things.”
Brenda Erickson, an analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said some states, including Washington, allow for temporary subs when a legislator is called up for military duty. But no other state does what Idaho does. “More often, they’re granted an excused absence, and that’s how it’s handled,” she said. “There’s no replacement.”
Idaho’s substitute-lawmaker law dates back all the way to 1891, though the original statute just allowed the governor to appoint temporary replacements for four top statewide elected officials – the Secretary of State, auditor, attorney general and schools superintendent – when they had a “temporary absence or disability.” In 1945, it was amended to include “any elected official.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.