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Eye On Boise

Bedke on canceling public hearings for JFAC: This year it’s about policy issues

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said issues surrounding the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 prompted him to press for canceling big public hearings on the state budget this year by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, hearings that in the past two years have drawn nearly 2,000 people from all over the state to the Capitol Auditorium to testify about the state budget. “With the defeat of the propositions, the budget was not what was struck down or changed, it was policy,” Bedke said. “So I feel much more comfortable with the policy committees being the clearinghouse for all the good ideas that come, because there is an expectation that JFAC can do something on those things, and it’s got to be the policy committees that makes the changes.” He added, “I would urge the co-chairs of education to conduct listening sessions based on the policy.”

JFAC’s first-ever public hearings were in 2011, when nearly a thousand people turned out to give their input on the Health & Welfare budget; the crowd spilled out of the auditorium and filled five overflow rooms. That year on Jan. 21, a hearing on the public schools budget drew more than 500 people, nearly 80 testified, and another 400 submitted written comments. Last year, JFAC held a single public hearing on Feb. 3; more than 200 people attended and more than 60 testified.

Bedke said, “Certainly the Legislature collectively needs to always be listening. The problems that we have … are problems that only the policy committees can fix.”  He added, “There’s always a dynamic in the Legislature, of what drives policy. Does the budget drive policy, or does policy drive the budget?” He noted that he’s an alumnus of JFAC. “That is a workhorse committee,” Bedke said. “Those are committed members and they do good work.” But, he said, “The issues that we’re talking about this year are policy.”

Asked how the decision fits with Bedke’s pledge to promote inclusiveness as the new House speaker, he said, “It includes the ones that are directly responsible for the decisions. It in no way diminishes JFAC … it elevates the other committees.” He said he’d support joint listening hearings by all the germane committees, from Education to Health & Welfare to others. He added, “I heard some frustration from some members of JFAC that they listened to all these things, and they were powerless to change it.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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