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Hill on court-ordered legal fees: ‘Few things more important than defending our state Constitution’

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, who joined in the unanimous vote of the Constitutional Defense Council this morning to pay nearly $1 million for plaintiffs’ legal fees in three major lawsuits the state lost, said, “There are very few things in state government that are more important than defending our state Constitution.”

“We’re in a very litigious society. People are going to sue if they feel they have grounds to do so,” Hill said. “I respect that process. I don’t think we should back down and never defend our laws and our Constitution because we think we might lose. … Sometimes we’ll win, and sometimes we’ll lose.”

Idaho has now tapped its Constitutional Defense Fund for court-ordered legal fees 10 times since the fund was established in 1995; lawmakers have deposited $3.5 million in taxpayer funds in the account over the years, and will be asked to replenish it again when they meet in January. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Hill on Keough: ‘She’s got the knowledge, she’s got the experience’


Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he’s heard only positive reactions from his Senate GOP caucus about his appointment of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, to chair the Senate Finance Committee, which makes her the co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget. “Sen. Keough certainly has put in her time there on the Finance Committee,” Hill said today. “She’s got many more years of experience than anyone else. She has turned down chairmanships of other committees” in order to remain vice-chair on the budget-writing panel over the years.

Keough’s co-chair on JFAC is Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning this will also be the first time two women co-chair the key committee.

Hill said he spoke with both Bell and former Finance Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, about the appointment, and both expressed great confidence in Keough’s abilities; Cameron left his longtime post to become the state insurance director.

“We felt very comfortable with her,” Hill said. “She’s got the knowledge, she’s got the experience.” He added, “Fiscally, she’s been very conservative, and so far she’s had strong support from the caucus. I haven’t heard any negative comments at all – they’ve all been very positive.”

Sen. Hill working on compromise bill on discrimination protections for gays

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is working on a compromise bill regarding discrimination protections for gay and lesbian Idahoans, NPR reporter Jessica Robinson reports today. Hill said he is drawing on a newly passed Utah law, but not copying it.

"I don’t think that a business should deny services to a person because of their sexual orientation," Hill told NPR. "However, I think that businesses should have a right not to participate in events that promote something that’s contrary to their religious beliefs.” While saying he’s not ready to talk specifics, Hill said he wants to make sure photographers, bakers and other businesses in the wedding industry are not obligated to participate in same-sex weddings.

Hill said his bill wouldn’t change the existing Idaho Human Rights Act, and instead would create a new section in another portion of Idaho law; you can see Robinson’s full report online here.

Post-primary donation makes Sen. Hill biggest donor to opponent’s campaign

A week after this year’s primary election, Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, did something rather unusual: He made a $300 donation to his GOP primary opponent’s campaign. That made Hill the biggest donor to challenger Scott Smith’s campaign other than Smith himself.

Hill, a seventh-term senator and retired CPA, defeated Smith 77.1 percent to 22.9 percent in the primary. Smith raised $1,484 for his campaign, including more than $600 of his own money. Hill raised $45,283 in campaign funds since Jan. 1, spent $24,630, and has $35,531 in his campaign fund; his expenditures included multiple contributions to other GOP campaigns.

“It’s no big deal – I felt like he ran a good campaign,” Hill said of his donation to Smith. “He stayed on the issues. We disagreed on some issues, but he stayed away from attacking characters and integrity.” Hill said after the election, he noticed that Smith had some campaign debt. “I said, well, I can’t take care of all your debt but I’d just like to help if that’s OK, and he said that was great,” Hill said. “He’s just a good guy, he’s a very nice guy.”

He added, “I probably wouldn’t have felt that way if he’d run a mean-spirited campaign, but he didn’t. We went to candidate forums. We definitely had differing opinions on things like the health insurance exchange. … I just thought he did a good campaign, and I believe in the political process. I think competition is good in this regard. It brings the issues to a higher level. People listen to them more than if they’re only hearing one side.”

Sen. Hill lauds Idaho insurance exchange

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, has a guest opinion in the Idaho Falls Post Register today lauding Idaho’s decision to establish a state health insurance exchange. Under the headline “Going our own way,” Hill writes, “The choice last year was never between a state-run exchange and no exchange at all. That option had been denied by the courts. It was a choice between state involvement and total federal control. Those states that ignored the law relinquished control to the federal government. Idaho refused to surrender its decision-making authority over health care issues.”

Hill writes, “While the residents of other states have been strapped by a 3.5 percent premium tax to fund the federal exchange, Idaho has kept fees at only 1.5 percent. Idaho's health insurance rates continue to be among the lowest in the country. While the federal exchange requires detailed personal information in order to access its exchange, Idaho allows persons to browse plans and check rates anonymously.” Click below for his full article.

New lawmakers welcomed to Capitol with energy bars, bathroom warnings

Idaho newest state legislators are on the job today, attending the first day of orientation for the record-tying 2013 Legislature's freshman class of 44. As they arrived for an opening lunch, many were greeted in the Capitol basement hallway by Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, who's among three candidates vying for House majority caucus chair. In a large basket, she had energy bars for each new representative, from either party, along with a cheery welcome note saying, "A little something to help you keep your energy up this week." Here, at right, Perry presents one to new Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, telling him, "You're going to need plenty of energy."

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, welcomed the group at a lunch in the Capitol dining room, to kick off an afternoon devoted to sessions on legislative process, staff, the state Capitol and administrative procedures; the orientation continues Tuesday and Wednesday. Hill told the large group, "Can you believe it - you're here? And you have this kind of a responsibility?" He said, "It's really an honor for us to be here. With that honor comes a lot of responsibility as well." Hill asked the new lawmakers to each introduce themselves. "I feel like the first day of school - excited," said new Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise. "I even got a new tie." New Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, said, "As the pro-tem said, just to walk into this place - it gives you chills."

Denney, who's fighting to keep the speaker's post in a challenge from House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the group he wanted to "welcome you all to the goldfish bowl," saying, "Everything you do here is going to be observed." Said Denney, "I can tell you that there's a lot of opportunity to do things that really don't bring honor to you."

Referencing the frequent evening receptions sponsored by lobbyists and interest groups, Denney said there's plenty of opportunity to imbibe too much. "If you drink too much, I'm going to give each and every one of you my cell phone number, because I will come and take you home," Denney promised. He also advised new lawmakers to use the restroom at every opportunity during sessions, "Because you never can tell when there might be a call of the House, and the doors are locked and you can't get out."

Rep. Nonini’s primary-season mischief an issue in his Senate bid

Fourth-term state Rep. Bob Nonini is running for the Senate, but his actions in the primary - pouring thousands into the campaigns of unsuccessful challengers to several sitting GOP lawmakers, including three senators - could make him an unpopular arrival there. "I'm getting back-door support from moderate Republicans," said his Democratic challenger, Kristy Reed Johnson. "Mr. Nonini has left the center of the party." Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, says, "I'm going to have some bridge-building to do, I'm sure. And I'm confident that I can do that."

It's the hottest race in North Idaho's District 3, a heavily GOP legislative district that nevertheless has Democrats mounting challenges for all three seats. Johnson's husband, Ronald K. Johnson, is challenging Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; while fourth-time Democratic candidate David Larsen is up against GOP primary winner Ron Mendive for Nonini's old House seat. But the action clearly revolves around Nonini, who affronted the very GOP caucus he hopes to join in the Senate with his controversial moves in the primary.

"Obviously, it's going to be somewhat awkward for him," said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. "I certainly don't condone what he did and I don't appreciate what he did. Sanctions, disciplinary action, those are all possibilities." Hill added, "I've talked to Rep. Nonini, I went to his home and visited with him and his wife, and you know, we want to be able to help him to be successful as a state senator. But we have to look after the whole body, and make sure that we're successful for the people as a whole." You can read my full story here from today's Spokesman-Review.

Brent Hill Advocates GOP Big Tent

In a guest opinion that is appearing in southern Idaho newspapers, Idaho Senate pro tem Brent Hill targets Constitutionalists embedded in the Idaho Republican Party:

As I was traveling recently, I picked up a campaign brochure in which the candidate described himself as a "Constitutional Republican." The implication was that his fellow Republicans were somehow not "constitutional" — that they cared little about protecting the God-given rights delineated in the U.S. Constitution. Over and over again in the recent primary election campaign, candidates touted the Constitution as if they were the only ones who loved, honored or understood that great document. Such rhetoric is not only demeaning but dangerous. More here.

Question: Which political party has the biggest tent — Democrats or Republicans?

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/09/06/2260754/brent-hill-if-gop-abandons-big.html#storylink=twt#storylink=cpy

Sen. Nuxoll repays state for end-of-session letter to GOP voters

Campaign finance reports show that Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, has reimbursed the Senate for the cost of an end-of-session letter she sent out to Republican voters that touted her record and thanked supporters as she seeks re-election. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he initially thought the letter only skated close to the line between campaign material and mere information, but after learning that it was sent only to Republicans, he called Nuxoll to discuss it.

"We just visited about it, and I said I thought it would be best if she reimbursed for all of it," Hill said this week. "It was a mutual agreement. If I hadn't suggested it, she would have by the end of our conversation." Nuxoll's post-primary election campaign finance report shows that she paid $890.09 to the Idaho State Senate on May 5 for a category of expenditures that takes in literature, brochures and printing. Nuxoll said today, "I wasn't legally liable, but you see the records." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Senator’s taxpayer-funded letter to prospective new district raises eyebrows

Kris Sabo of Sagle was surprised when an official state-funded letter arrived in the mail from Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, talking about Nuxoll's record and thanking supporters as she seeks re-election. “My gosh, she's from Cottonwood – where the heck is that?” Sabo asked. “If she's using our money to help her campaign to keep her job, that shows disrespect for our money. Nobody's going to pay for me to go out and try to keep my job.”

Sabo currently is in Idaho's legislative District 2, one of the North Idaho Panhandle legislative districts. But redistricting in Idaho will put her in the new District 7 next year, which stretches from southeastern Bonner County all the way south to the Valley County line at the mid-section of the state; Cottonwood is nearly a four-hour drive south of Sagle.

Though state senators can send out taxpayer-funded mailings, up to a $2,000 annual limit, this one's raising eyebrows because Nuxoll sent it to about 1,700 Republicans not only in her current district, but also in the new district she'd represent if she wins another term. “I just approached it as informing people. This is an informational letter,” Nuxoll said. “There might have been one negative comment.” She added that she sent it just to Republicans “because I am a Republican and I had to limit the number of letters going out to keep under my limit by the state.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, says he wishes he'd addressed the old district/new district issue with senators, but since it only comes up every 10 years – when new legislative districts take effect – no one thought of it. “We probably should have discussed it and maybe even got some kind of ruling from the Attorney General's office,” Hill said. “We did not do that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and click below for the full text of Nuxoll's letter.

Hi-Noon: Little Ethics Reform In 2012

House Speaker Lawerence Denney told the Idaho Press Club today, “I think we're at the point where we're ruling out the independent ethics commission.” A bipartisan House-Senate working group couldn't reach agreement, and there were separation of powers issues with the question of whether a commission could oversee both the legislative and executive branches, Denney said. However, both Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said they still expect some moves toward ethics reforms in this year's legislative session, including, at the very least rules changes in both houses adjusting how ethics committees work and requiring annual ethics training for lawmakers/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Are you surprised that early ethics push by Legislature apparently has fizzled out?

Brent Hill Gets Lewiston Trib Jeers

JEERS … to Idaho Senate President Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. Hill is the epitome of transparency and ethical political behavior. Yet he so mishandled the Sen. John McGee fiasco that in comparison, Boss Denney's mild rebuke of tax scofflaw Phil Hart last year looks like a public flogging. And Hart was only guilty of hypocrisy - refusing to pay his own taxes while serving on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.McGee, R-Caldwell, on the other hand, committed a crime - one that could have killed somebody/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. Marty's Cheers & Jeers column here.

Question: Do you agree with Marty Trillhaase that Brent Hill's protection of Sen. John McGee is worse than Lawerence Denney's protection of Phil Hart last year?

Crusader Wants Solon Sobriety Oath

A former Las Vegas TV reporter turned anti-drinking crusader received pledges from 13 Idaho lawmakers over the Christmas weekend that they will abstain from drinking during the 2012 session. Scott Andrus, 50, of Twin Falls, sent the solicitation to all 105 lawmakers on Dec. 23, receiving 17 responses. Four lawmakers replied with equivocal answers. Wrote Andrus: "I humbly ask that you pledge that no beverage alcohol will pass your lips during the 2012 legislative session. Please remain sober as you conduct the affairs of state." Most of the pledges were quite brief, such as that from Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls: "I promise." Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg: "No problem"/Dan Popkey, Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you want Idaho legislators to take a sobriety oath?

Hill, Denney Lead Top 5 Pol List

HucksOnline isn't surprised that no Democrat makes StateImpact's list of Top 5 most influential Idaho legislators. The superminority Democrats have little clout in the state Capitol. But no North Idaho legislators made the list either — not even Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint — who should get an honorable mention, at least. Oh well, article by Emilie Saunders Ritter about Brent Hill, Lawerence Denney, & three other friends worth the read as we all prepare for 2012 version of legislative Keystone Kops. Click here.

Question: Do you agree with this list of Top 5 legislators?

Hill Wants To Raise Faith In Gummint

Sen. Brent Hill of Rexburg, the Republican majority’s new leader in the Idaho Senate, told the Rexburg Standard Journal, “If I had one goal, it would be to create a better level of trust between the citizens and government as a whole. Part of the way we do that is to be honest, up front and communicate so people know what’s going on in government.” Hill, 61, was chosen last Wednesday by the state Senate’s 28 GOP members to serve as their new president pro tempore. He will replace Sen. Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, who held the post longer than any state lawmaker before stepping down this year/Associated Press. More here.

Question: What would the Idaho Legislature have to do to restore your faith in state government?

Randy: Pro Tem Hill Non-Ideological

The new leader of the Idaho Senate, Republican Brent Hill of Rexburg, has developed a generally broad respect among Idaho legislature-watchers. He seems, based on his statements and initiatives, to be relatively non-ideological and willing to work with unexpected allies. That’s a broader picture than you might have expected from this year’s round of leadership races, with the Senate top job open for choice/Randy Stapilus, Ridenbaugh Press. More here. (And: Idaho’s Senate leaders won’t rubber-stamp House conservatives/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman)

Question: Which house of the Idaho Legislature will you look toward for leadership in 2011 — House or Senate?

IMHO: UI/BSU Basketball Or Steele?

What to do if you’re a Republican politician on a Wednesday night, when two big events are in town? Do you listen to newly minted Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele? Or do you take in the Boise State-Idaho basketball game? To see how Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman Brent Hill of Rexburg voted, check out photo #10 in this Statesman photo gallery. Considering the finish of last night’s game, I’m not going to second-guess Hill/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What would you do if you happened to be a high-profile elected official confronted with the choice of watching the UI/Boise State basketball game or hearing national Republican Chairman Michael Steele?