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Eye On Boise

The fight over the tax conformity bill and same-sex marriage…

Here's my full story on today's fight in the House over the tax-conformity bill and same-sex marriage:

BOISE – North Idaho Rep. Heather Scott tried unsuccessfully Friday to kill an income tax bill over same-sex marriage issues, though the measure must pass before Idahoans can start filing their state tax returns.

The final version of the bill that came to the House on Friday attracted opposition from a small, bipartisan group of lawmakers – some of whom strongly oppose gay marriage, and some of whom strongly support it.

“I just think that we have a problem, because we’re trying to have it both ways,” Scott said after her motion to kill the bill failed with just eight votes in favor, and then the measure passed, 54-16. “It’s cover, is what it is.”

Idaho income tax filers who have simple returns, with no business activity, started being able to file on Jan. 19. But all others must wait until the Legislature passes the annual tax conformity bill, which affects the calculation of adjusted gross income – the starting point for all Idaho returns.

Scott and two other lawmakers objected to the first version of the bill because it removed a 2014 addition to Idaho’s tax laws requiring same-sex couples who file joint federal returns to recalculate their taxes and file separately in Idaho. State tax officials said that clause is no longer legally valid, because Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional in federal court.

Scott said striking out that clause would conflict with Idaho’s ban, which is still on the books, though no longer enforceable. And like-minded citizens flooded House members this week with strident emails, suggesting that if they voted for the annual conformity bill they’d be violating the Constitution or even committing treason. Idaho conforms its income tax deductions with federal changes each year so taxpayers don’t have to recalculate their adjusted gross income.

On Thursday, House GOP leaders pulled the bill back to committee, and replaced it with a new one Friday morning that doesn’t strike the clause in question. Instead, it adds another paragraph, saying that “notwithstanding” that clause, “Marriages recognized and permitted by the United States Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals shall also be recognized for purposes of the Idaho Income Tax Act.”

One of the three lawmakers who had objected to the bill in committee switched over to support it Friday morning. Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said, “I do see a differentiation between being asked to play an affirmative role in redefining a definition, and acknowledging that there’s been a federal ruling in a federal court and acknowledging what the inevitable outcome of any litigation might be.”

Scott and Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, were unswayed, however, and were joined in opposing the bill in committee by two Democratic lawmakers, who argued that the new version seemed to affirm a same-sex marriage ban that’s been ruled unconstitutional. The new version of the bill is co-sponsored by all four members of the House GOP leadership team, led by Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

When the bill hit the full House three hours later, Scott, R-Blanchard, tried a little-used parliamentary maneuver, a motion to table the bill, HB 425. If that non-debatable motion had passed by a majority vote, it would have tabled the bill until a two-thirds vote revived it. But only eight House members backed the move, five Republicans and three Democrats.

House Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said the process of conforming Idaho’s tax laws with federal law changes this year “has been hijacked by hate and misunderstanding.”

Scott told the House, “The problem I have with this bill is by conforming to the federal definition of marriage … what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be allowing the Tax Commission to recognize same-sex marriage, which is against our state Constitution. If we want to do that, we need to remove this amendment from our Constitution, because voting on this bill will be against our state Constitution, and that’s what we’ve taken an oath to uphold.”

After Scott’s motion failed, the House passed the bill and sent it over to the Senate, which will take it up next week. The 16 “no” votes were from eight Republicans and eight Democrats, including North Idaho Reps. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Scott; and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Just before the debate, Erpelding and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, had introduced a personal bill to remove the invalidated amendment from Idaho’s Constitution. The measure hasn’t yet been assigned to a committee.

After the vote, Scott said, “I think that we should hear all ideas. That’s my point – we either remove it from the Constitution, or we don’t.”

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, told the House, “This is a bill that our CPA community is anxiously awaiting. … Jan. 19 of this year was the first date on which the filers could begin filing, but not so in Idaho, because they wait for us, they wait for this bill to come through.”

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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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