Arrow-right Camera

Idaho Voices

Legislative session goes through some late-season fireworks

Sun., April 19, 2009

BOISE – Earlier, when House Speaker Lawerence Denney introduced a last-minute bill to require voters to show picture I.D. and to end mail-in voter registration in Idaho, he said the bill probably wouldn’t get a hearing this year – and then, suddenly, a hearing was scheduled for the bill in the House State Affairs Committee.

Then, on the eve of the early-morning hearing, it was canceled.

Denney said he got a visit from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “The secretary came and saw us yesterday, me and the pro tem, and he convinced us that they will work on the issue over the interim and we will all come back and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ ” Denney said.

Asked why he scheduled a hearing on the bill after earlier saying he likely wouldn’t, Denney said, “It had the desired effect. We did get the attention of the county clerks and the secretary of state.”

Said Denney, “I think there is a problem there that needs to be addressed, and that’s the problem of being able to register by mail and then request an absentee ballot, so you can vote without anybody seeing you. That needs to be addressed.”

Dueling immigration bills

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has gotten legislation introduced to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, though his bill differs from one introduced earlier by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake. Neither will go forward this year, but Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, has promised a hearing on the issue next year.

“I actually authored both bills,” Hart told Eye on Boise. “I thought Jorgenson and I were working together on this. Without my knowledge, he amended part of the bill and ran it in a way I objected to.” Both versions are now out on the Internet for anyone to see; Jorgenson’s is SB 1155 and Hart’s is SB 1196.

Hart said, “His version would require every single Idahoan to prove their right to be in the country every time they went to get a job. My bill would encourage employers to check only those they thought were illegal.”

Jorgenson, however, has an entirely different spin on the situation. “We have a difference of opinion, that’s all,” he said. “We started off working together.”

Jorgenson said he’s been meeting with stakeholders in the issue, including “the dairymen, ag, all these folks.” He’s even talking with a federal official about coming to Idaho to put on a demonstration of the “e-verify” system, which his immigration bill would require employers to use to verify their employees’ immigration status.

“My version requires e-verify – frankly, without e-verify, the bill is meaningless,” Jorgenson said. “The issue is he doesn’t like the use of Social Security numbers, and that’s the database.”

An odd moment

There was an odd moment during a Senate Transportation Committee meeting this past week when Sen. Diane `eu, D-Pocatello, asked Idaho Transportation Department official Alan Frew, who was presenting a $13.1 million ITD fee increase proposal, “Why bring in such a big bill at the end of the session?”

Frew reddened, and suggested to Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, “I suppose this is my fault for having forgot about the bill?” McGee, who’s had the ITD fee-increase bill since the start of the session but kept it in his desk drawer before finally deciding to bring it out for a hearing, said, “The chairman determines when bills will be heard.”

If they called it tuition

It takes a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to change the Idaho Constitution, and this year, SJR 101, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the University of Idaho to charge “tuition,” won that support. That means it’ll go before voters in 2010, who then must approve it by a majority for it to amend the constitution.

All other Idaho state universities charge tuition, but a law from Idaho’s territorial days forbids tuition at the U of I – so students there pay “fees” roughly equal to what other state university students pay. The difference is that those student fees can’t pay professors or otherwise directly fund instruction, which creates budget headaches when funding is shifted around, like it is during the current budget crunch. If voters approve, that distinction would be erased.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or For more news from Boise go to

Click here to comment on this story »