April 3, 2009 in Idaho

Tie vote kills N. Idaho lawmaker’s bill

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, proposed legislation to move Idaho toward putting all state agency expenditures into a searchable, online database, but the House killed the bill Friday on a tied vote.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Idaho’s House rejected legislation from Athol Rep. Phil Hart Friday aimed at putting increasing government transparency, on a tied, 32-32 vote.

Hart’s bill, HB 263, would have moved the state toward constructing and compiling a searchable database of all state agency expenditures putting it online. “It is part of our public policy that we do provide this transparency,” Hart told the House.

Opponents of the bill, however, said it didn’t account for its cost; the bill’s fiscal note said there would be no fiscal impact to the state’s general fund.

Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, told the House, “I would ask you to stop funding unfunded mandates to agencies that are already stretched, and are going to be stretched even more.” She estimated the bill would cost the state “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a member of the joint budget committee, said, “We will have to pay for this … so if you vote for this, you’d better be prepared to pay for this.”

Hart responded that posting essentially the state’s entire record of checkbook transactions online would cut down on the number of public records requests state agencies would have to respond to, thereby saving the state money.

So, he said, if the bill’s cost really is to be estimated, the state also should estimate those savings and cut every agency’s budget by that amount. He quoted Thomas Jefferson and said if the state’s financial information is online, citizens can monitor it and watch for abuses. But tied votes fail; the bill was killed.

Less than an hour later, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, used a parliamentary maneuver to ask the House to reconsider the bill; he could do that because he originally voted against it. “If there’s one thing we need in governmental agencies, it’s transparency,” Thompson said.

However, the motion to reconsider failed on a 30-32 vote.

Hart called the outcome “surprising.” He said, “This is legislation that would have a very substantial cost savings to the state of Idaho and the state of Idaho’s taxpayers, for a very minimal investment.”

He said his bill wouldn’t have actually set up the searchable database; it would’ve just begun the process by gathering information from all state agencies on what setting it up would take.

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