December 5, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Legislators likely to go by the book

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Of the 18 newly elected legislators who will join Idaho’s House and Senate when it convenes in January, five previously served in the Legislature, two others have held other elected offices, and one – new Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens – previously served in the Montana Legislature.

The group includes 11 men and seven women; six senators and 12 representatives; and four Democrats and 14 Republicans. There are two lawyers, one doctor, two ranchers, and 10 business men or women.

When asked their hobbies, the most common answer from this freshman class of lawmakers was – really – reading, followed by shooting sports and golf.

How Idaho differs

New Idaho legislators came to Boise last week for some orientation and schooling, and between presentations on introducing bills and navigating the legislative computer system, they heard from Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief on how Idaho’s Legislature is different from those of other states.

The differences are many. Among them: “The differential in prestige between the House and the Senate in Idaho is almost nonexistent compared to what you find in most states,” Moncrief said. Both have two-year terms; both represent exactly the same districts. “The only difference is there’s 35 more people in the House, but that’s all,” Moncrief said.

As a result, unlike in most states, House members don’t typically serve there first and then move up to the Senate; there are seven senators now who previously served in the House. There’s one new representative, Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, who previously served in the Senate.

Lopsided legislature

Other ways Idaho’s Legislature differs: For the most part, it only allows bills to be introduced if a committee supports them. “There’s actually no other state that does this,” Moncrief said. “About a third of the potential bills are kind of immediately taken out of the system because they’re not printed.”

Idaho also sets its budget in separate bills for each agency rather than in one giant omnibus bill. That allows less horse-trading, pork-barrel politics and logrolling in the full House and Senate, Moncrief said.

Here’s another difference: Age. Idaho had the second-oldest Legislature in the nation as of the last survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures in the fall, prior to the November election.

It also has one of the most lopsided legislatures as far as party balance, with four-fifths of the seats held by Republicans, but not the most lopsided. Hawaii has the most lopsided legislative chamber in the nation: Its state Senate has 25 Democrats and just one Republican. Moncrief’s research shows Idaho has the ninth and 11th most lopsided chambers in terms of party distribution.

“Obviously, that’s going to have an effect on policy-making and the way it gets done as well,” he said.

One tough coyote

A coyote that was acting strangely in the around the Capitol and North End areas of Boise was hit with three tranquilizer darts but still evaded capture and remained on the loose four days later, the Idaho Fish and Game Department reported. Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell said the large coyote, which appeared to have become habituated to humans, was darted with the intent of removing it from the area, but each time it was hit, disturbances from traffic or people roused it before it could drowse off, and it escaped.

Bigger than a cubicle

Idaho congressman-elect Raul Labrador, after a week of new member orientation in Washington, D.C., pronounced the experience “amazing.” “I just felt the entire week like it was such a privilege to be there, and I was just in awe that the people of Idaho had given me that privilege,” Labrador said in an interview.

New members drew numbers for priority in choosing their office space, and though Labrador drew a low number – 78 out of 85 – he said he actually got an office in the Longworth Building that was among his top five choices. “I like the building – it’s kind of smaller offices, but a lot of history. They have beautiful wood paneling and things like that,” he said. “But I would’ve been happy with a closet.” He added, “Especially coming from the state Legislature – I had a cubicle.”

Labrador released an op-ed piece about his experience at the orientation, in which he said, “I was thrilled to find that most of my new colleagues are as serious as I am about reversing the direction that Congress has pursued the last two years.”

Poaching near Kamiah

Idaho Fish and Game is investigating what it calls “an alarming number” of big game animals shot and left to waste along a single stretch of road east of Kamiah – seven deer and elk since late October. “We’ve investigated poaching activity in this area in the past, but nothing to this extent,” said Roger Westfall, a senior conservation officer based in Kamiah. “There is no excuse for these senseless crimes – it’s outrageous.”

Fish and Game reported that the kills, all found along a 1.5-mile stretch of Beaver Slide Road, included two whitetail does, a cow elk, a mature mule deer buck, a small whitetail buck and two more elk. All appeared to have been shot from the road illegally; no meat was taken from any of them.

Anyone with information can call the Citizens Against Poaching hotline at (800) 632-5999.

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