BOISE – The Senate killed a hard-fought energy compromise by one vote, the House speaker booted two moderates out of their committee chairmanships, and Idaho’s wild 2011 legislative session ground to a finish Thursday after 88 days – the seventh-longest session in state history, and clearly one of the prickliest.
Minority Democrats branded the session the “worst in memory,” and even majority Republicans called it “difficult” and “frustrating.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “It was a difficult session, but I think when it’s all said and done, that we did what we had to do.”
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she was “quite shocked” at Denney’s last-minute move, the last action of the session Thursday, to replace long-serving moderate Reps. Tom Trail of Moscow and Leon Smith of Twin Falls as the chairmen of the Agriculture and Transportation committees.
Denney said the move was punishment for not voting with GOP leadership on procedural votes, including moves to call bills from committee and to send bills to the amending order. Among those that Smith supported calling out was his own bill on online sales taxes, which Denney killed early in the session; however, Smith didn’t cast a vote on that move, choosing to leave the chamber instead. He did vote with Democrats, however, on unsuccessful moves to amend an end-of-life health care provider conscience bill and to pull his own unheard end-of-life conscience bill, HB 28, out of committee.
“I don’t ask anybody to vote a certain way on any issue, but I do expect them to support other committee chairmen and leadership on procedural issues, and there were several votes this year that they did not support us,” Denney said.
The two were replaced by their vice-chairs, both far less senior; new Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, is in just his second term.
Ringo, who represents the same North Idaho district as Trail, said, “This has been a dreadful session, and for me, that put a dreadful exclamation point right at the end.”
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, who spent much of the session negotiating a hard-fought energy compromise in the face of opposition from eastern Idaho residents who are upset about proliferating wind turbines in their area, said he was “really disappointed” when senators unexpectedly voted 17-18 to kill the compromise in the last vote of the session.
It would have partially extended a renewable energy sales tax credit that now will expire on June 30, while also putting sharp limits on new wind projects qualifying for the credit.
“I think it’s a disappointing message to those that are looking at developing renewable resources in Idaho,” Eskridge said.
The issue was among the most heavily lobbied of the session, as large utilities that in some cases are forced to buy the renewable energy sought to limit the projects.
Eskridge called the session as a whole “tough” and “disappointing,” and said he didn’t like the way the debate over school reforms implied “that teachers are the problem.” He also objected to the Republican Party’s move to close its primary elections, saying, “I think we’ve disenfranchised independent voters.”
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the lead sponsor of the controversial school reform bills, said it was a “difficult” legislative session for him. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in the education reform arena,” he said, “and it’s a good first step. As we go to implement it, there may be some changes that need to be made, and that’s part of the process. I look forward to working with educators over the interim to address those issues.”
Asked about the prospect of a voter referendum to overturn the reforms, Goedde said, “Certainly that’s the constitutional right of the voters. I think that if this is on the ballot in November of 2012, that there’s a very good chance the voters of the state of Idaho will sustain the work that we’ve done.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she thought the rough session was “reflective of the struggle that Idahoans are in, whether it’s economic struggle or political struggle, that we seem to be involved in not only in Idaho but across the country.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a freshman representative who won a four-way GOP primary last spring but then ran unopposed in November, was more upbeat in looking back on the session. Barbieri, who stepped into the spotlight as the lead sponsor of legislation attempting to “nullify” the federal health care reform law, then later settled for a compromise bill, said, “It’s nice to have a success. I really didn’t expect to have anything more than a discussion about that.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.