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House-Senate spat kills Idaho reform bill

BOISE – Legislation to remove Idaho lawmakers’ special exemption from having their wages garnished for state court judgments has fallen victim to late-session hostilities between the House and Senate.

The bill never received a Senate committee hearing.

It was the second bill proposed this year to remove special privileges for lawmakers that failed. The other would have now have removed their exemption from concealed gun permit requirements.

In both cases, Idaho’s House of Representatives approved the bills, but they died in the same Senate committee.

“Sure sounds like a pattern, doesn’t it?” said freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, sponsor of the wage-garnishment bill.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, has refused to schedule a hearing on that bill, HB 510, until a House committee sets a hearing on his bill regarding firefighters’ occupational cancers. But that Senate-passed bill isn’t going to get a hearing in the House Commerce Committee, according to that panel’s chairman, Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.

Hartgen is adamant that he doesn’t think the firefighter bill – SB 1373a – is good public policy. It would recognize certain cancers linked to breathing hazardous substances common in burning buildings as occupational diseases under Idaho’s workers compensation system; firefighters have been pushing for the change for years. Currently they must prove the cancer was caused by the work; under the bill, that would be the presumption.

Hartgen said he believes the bill would give professional firefighters “another benefit stream” that could be very costly, and would open the door to similar requests from part-time firefighters and other first responders.

“I know it’s dangerous work – they do put their lives on the line,” he said. “But we compensate them well, they have excellent retirement benefits, they often have second jobs, and no one forces you to become a fireman. … I just think on the basis of fairness and potential cost, that this is a bill that needs more work.”

McKenzie said of the wage-garnishment bill, “This particular bill is the one that is still in my committee. It’s the means that I have to express my frustration over that.”

Hartgen said, “I think that’s unfortunate, that we are playing politics with these different bills. I would urge the good senator to hear the bill on its own merits.”

McKenzie said the garnishment bill is “an important issue,” and if it doesn’t pass this year, he expects it will return next year. “I am frustrated by the process,” he said.

But he said he believes the firefighters cancer bill is “just as important if not more important – it’s people’s lives that are being affected by cancer, because of the job that they do.”

The firefighters bill, SB 1373a, passed the Senate last week on a 28-7 vote. The garnishment bill, HB 510, passed the House Feb. 26 on a 65-2 vote.

One of the two “no” votes came from North Idaho Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, who later asked the House to convene an ethics investigation into her vote, because she failed to reveal a conflict of interest as required by House rules. McMillan faces numerous court judgments, including at least one in which garnishment of her legislative wages was blocked by the special exemption.

HB 514, the earlier bill to remove Idaho lawmakers’ exemption from the requirement to get a concealed weapon permit in order to carry a concealed gun, passed the House on a 62-7 vote on Feb. 27. It died on a 6-2 vote in McKenzie’s committee after a hearing; McKenzie was among those opposing it.

He said he thought gun rights in general should be broadened, not narrowed.

The House passed the bill after the special exemption made news last year when former Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, had his concealed weapon permit revoked by the county sheriff for not revealing an attempted rape conviction from the 1970s. However, as long as he remained a legislator, Patterson was able to continue carrying a concealed gun without a permit anyway.

“I feel like we should expand the ability of citizens to carry, rather than shortening that list,” McKenzie said.

Morse called the demise of his wage-garnishment bill “an attempt to thwart reform.” The exemption has been on the books in Idaho since 1939.

“I think there’s overwhelming support for changes, among the voters, to revoke privileges that politicians have granted themselves,” Morse said. “We can make these changes readily at the state level, if individuals like Sen. McKenzie don’t block it.”