Just before the vote on the tribal fuel tax bill, HB 249a, Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, asked to have the Senate put at ease and a big brouhaha among leaders from both parties ensued, with rule books waving. The problem? Sen. Lee Heinrich, R-Cascade, the sponsor of the bill, had used “exceptional words” in his closing debate, Stennett charged. That violates Senate Rule 41, which was vigorously invoked last week by Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, against Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, after Werk used the phrase “by God” during an emotional debate against a bill. Darrington called that “profanity,” and Werk was sanctioned by having the misstep noted in the Senate’s journal. Heinrich, in his closing debate, used the phrase, “God forbid.”
“I don’t see how that differs from ‘By God,’” Stennett said.
But this time, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who was presiding over the Senate, overruled the objection, saying the only penalty for using “exceptional words” is to have to yield the floor and stop speaking. Stennett waited until Heinrich finished before lodging the protest – but so did Darrington last week when he criticized Werk’s wording. When told of that difference in handling the issue, Risch said he wasn’t there the previous time – and said if he were pressed, he’d rule that Heinrich’s words weren’t “exceptional.”
The other difference: Last time, it was a member of the minority party who was the target of the protest, while this time it was a Republican senator. Stennett said, “What I’m trying to get is some fairness in rulings.”
Risch did warn the Senate “to be cautious and use circumspection while debating.”