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North Idaho rep wants Legislature to hire different lawyers

Rep. Vito Barbieri
Rep. Vito Barbieri

BOISE - Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, wants the Idaho Legislature to hire its own lawyers in a new “Office of Legislative Counsel” rather than consulting the Idaho Attorney General’s office.

Barbieri, sponsor of this year’s unsuccessful health-care nullification law, which the attorney general’s office advised violated both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions and lawmakers’ oath of office, is an attorney, though he’s not licensed in Idaho; he disputed the opinion.

“The whole point of this is we begin to use our own attorneys for opinions,” he told a House committee Tuesday; it agreed to introduce his bill on a divided vote.

Barbieri’s bill proposes to fund the new two-lawyer office by shifting funds and staffing from the attorney general’s budget.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, said, “Well, it’s a policy choice whether the Legislature wants to get legal advice from the attorney general or from its own lawyers.”

He said, “I think the majority of legislators are going to think about whether they want accurate, objective legal advice that helps them write laws that stand up in court, or if they just want lawyers that’ll tell them what they want to hear, even if that means that some of their laws get struck down, and the taxpayers pay for the lawyers on both sides of the fight in that instance.”

Barbieri said the Legislature can hire attorneys of its own choosing.

“We have that power right now,” he told the House State Affairs Committee. “So it is not a change with respect to our power.”

Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, asked Barbieri, “Does the attorney general’s office know about this?”

Barbieri responded that he was “amused” by the question. “I find it an oxymoron to say, gee, what do you think about us taking away some of your power?” he said. “No. The whole point of this is we begin to use our own attorneys for opinions, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for me to go to the attorney general and say, ‘What do you think?’”

A motion to reject the proposed bill died on a divided voice vote, and the original motion to introduce it then passed, again on a divided voice vote.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said, “Obviously, there’s a lot of questions here, but I think it’s a fair issue for us to explore.”

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