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Eye On Boise

Idaho lawmakers to undergo ‘civil discourse’ training this year

Idaho Legislative Council meets at the state Capitol on Friday morning (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho Legislative Council meets at the state Capitol on Friday morning (Betsy Z. Russell)

The Legislative Council, the joint committee that oversees legislative business when lawmakers aren’t in session, is meeting all day today; it agreed this morning to hold a half-day workshop on “Building Trust Through Civil Discourse” for all members of the Legislature, working with the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse. The session will take place on the second day of this year’s legislative session in January, a Tuesday, running from noon to 5 p.m. It’ll take the place of mandatory ethics training lawmakers have been required to attend during the first week of the session for the past two years; the mandatory ethics training will return the following year, after the election, and continue every two years.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said members of legislative leadership from both parties participated in a smaller-scale, four-hour session with the group yesterday after being contacted about it by the City Club of Boise.  “The title is at least in part somewhat deceiving, civil discourse, but it goes a little bit deeper than that,” Bedke said.  Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis,  R-Idaho Falls, asked that the Legislature contact the Idaho State Bar and pre-qualify the session as ethics training for continuing legal education credit, for lawmakers who are attorneys.

“The political discourse nationally is not all that civil, and some of that bleeds into Idaho,” Bedke said. “This was a very useful exercise, I thought, that we did yesterday.”

There would be no cost to the state. The institute has presented the workshop to the state legislatures of Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington. According to the institute, “Participants learn how to set aside personal attacks and rebuild trust after a season of negative campaigning.”

Bedke said, “I’m under no illusion that we’ll all become models in our discourse come crunch time in March, but to the extent that we’re marginally better, that would be good.” Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “It was a good program, it was well worth the time. I certainly agree we don’t have the kind of problem that we see at the national level, but we’re not immune to what’s going on in the culture in our country and in our state. Even if for some it’s no more than a reminder, I think it’s a good reminder.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said, “So much of ethics is an attitude state of mind, so much of civility is as well. ... It reminded me of some things I need to do better.”

The institute says the goal of its program is to strengthen relationships across the aisle, increase the effectiveness of state legislatures, and create “civility caucuses” in participating state legislatures.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I was there yesterday as well, and I think it’s a really valuable exercise. Culture is one of the tools that we have to get our work done. And defining and reinforcing a culture that promotes a successful performance of our duties I think is an important continuing education training for us.”

The Legislative Council’s meeting is being audio-streamed live online; you can listen here. Today’s agenda includes plans for the 2016 legislative session, reports from each of this year’s interim legislative committees, updates on the state budget and more.

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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