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News >  Idaho Voices

Long session leads to rules for when sessions are long

Betsy Z. Russell

BOISE – Even though it fell short by one day of matching the record for the longest-ever legislative session in Idaho history, this year’s Idaho legislative session actually did set a record: It ran longer into the spring than any previous session.

The record 118-day session in 2003 ended on May 3. But this year’s 117-day session ended on May 8. The reason: Because of a quirk of the calendar, this year’s started later. Idaho lawmakers, by law, convene each year on the Monday on or closest to Jan. 9. This year, that was Jan. 12. In 2003, it was Jan. 6.

It was so long that …

The session was so long that lawmakers actually had to pass a law – SB 1246, which passed both houses unanimously on the next-to-last day of the session – to make sure the laws they made still were effective despite the session’s over-long length.

The problem: The state Constitution says laws can’t take effect until 60 days from the end of the session, unless they have emergency clauses. Most bills without emergency clauses take effect July 1.

However, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis noted on the 116th day, “That means the session has to end on May the 2nd – we’re past May the 2nd.” So SB 1246 “basically goes in and amends every bill and every title … so they can still go into effect on July 1st … unless they provide for an alternative date.”

Said Davis, “This bill, as long as I’ve been in the Senate, has only had to be brought one other time.” That was in the record session of 2003.

There might be a blunder

In the closing days of the legislative session, newly-introduced bills were found to have flaws and errors – all it took was a bit of poking for them to show holes. Several were pulled back and redone. Here’s a late-session limerick on the phenomenon:

When last-minute versions of law

Are rushed out half-cooked or still raw

Is it any wonder

There might be a blunder

And looking close turns up a flaw?

It’s how it’s done

And here’s another rhyming relic of the session that was:

When all of the deals have been paid

And promises all start to fade

The roads may be rough

The school budgets tough

But that’s how our laws here are made.

‘Never too old’

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, was in the thick of the action in the final weeks of the legislative session this year, never mind that he’s 86. He told the House at adjournment: “This was tough, but it also was good. I want to leave with a favorite saying of mine, and that is, ‘You are never too old to have a happy childhood.’ ”

Moving around lottery proceeds

Little-noticed this year was legislation to change the distribution of state lottery proceeds for the next five years, holding the two regular recipients – schools and the state’s permanent building fund – to the amount they received in 2008, and giving the excess to the state’s bond levy equalization fund. That program, enacted in response to a lawsuit over Idaho’s school funding system, matches a portion of school district costs for school bonds; the program’s cost increases each year as it phases in and covers more bond issues.

Under the bill, HB 275, if lottery profits grow sufficiently, three-eighths would go to the building fund, three-eighths to schools, and one-fourth to the bond levy equalization fund for the next five years. After that, from Sept. 31, 2014 on, the distribution would revert back to the current split, half to schools, half to the permanent building fund.

The idea is that after that date, cigarette tax funds now going to pay for the state Capitol renovation would become available as a possible funding source. The bill, crafted by House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, passed the House in early April, hung on the Senate calendar for more than a month, and then finally won Senate passage on the session’s next-to-last day and went to the governor’s desk.

‘Criticism … a little misguided’

Musing on some of the things some lawmakers said about him this year, Gov. Butch Otter said, “In the heat of battle there’s some passion that sometimes is released. I’d like an opportunity to set down and let ’em know where I thought, perhaps, their criticism of my efforts was maybe a little misguided. I think the best way to overcome or change the criticism that was the most harsh is to make sure the transportation executive order is fully executed, to the limit.”

That harsh criticism would be House Education Chairman Bob Nonini’s floor debate against a gas tax increase, in which he derided Otter’s executive order for new accountability measures at ITD as “not worth the piece of paper it was printed on.”

‘In just 244 days …’

State Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, noted at adjournment of the Senate, “In just 244 days, give or take a day or two, we’ll be back in session.” He said, “Senators, it’s time for us to go home.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise go to www.spokesman.com/boise.
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