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Eye on Boise: Idaho Senate backs veto-override amendment

With little debate, the Senate on Friday voted 28-6 in favor of Sen. Steve Vick’s proposed constitutional amendment to empower the House speaker and the Senate president pro-tem to order the governor to call a special session of the Legislature to try a veto override, if the veto was issued after lawmakers finished their session.

Currently, Idaho lawmakers have no way to override post-session vetoes, though nothing stops them from proposing the same bill again when they convene the next year.

Vick said he was prompted to propose the change to the Idaho Constitution because when he served in the Montana Legislature, that state had rules allowing for a poll of legislators for post-session overrides. Washington state lawmakers can take up a post-session override attempt at the start of the next session.

The Idaho Constitution says only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature, and special sessions are limited to only those topics named in the governor’s proclamation calling the session.

Vick said he’s received questions about whether his amendment would violate the separation of powers between Idaho’s branches of government, and the answer is no – because it’s the state constitution that determines that separation, and the measure would amend the constitution.

By amending the constitution, Idaho could alter its separation of powers any way it wants. It could, for example, remove the governor’s veto power entirely. But reverence for the state’s heritage and the form of government set up over its history usually stops lawmakers from proposing such drastic changes.

Amending the Idaho Constitution requires two-thirds support in each house of the Legislature, followed by majority support from voters at the next general election. Friday’s Senate vote met the first mark.

Idaho’s last special session of the Legislature was in 2006, a one-day session called by then-Gov. Jim Risch. Each day the Legislature is in session costs taxpayers an estimated $30,000.

This is the third amendment to the Idaho Constitution that Vick has proposed in his two terms in the Senate. The first, to amend the constitution to limit legislative sessions to 80 days a year, didn’t get a committee hearing. The second, to require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, failed to receive the required two-thirds support in the House two years ago.

Homeowner’s exemption

The homeowner’s exemption from property tax would no longer be indexed and go up and down with the market, under legislation from the Idaho Realtors and the Idaho Farm Bureau that cleared the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Friday. HB 594 would instead set the maximum homeowner’s exemption at a fixed $90,000; it’s now indexed to reflect changes in the Idaho Housing Price Index. The bill now heads to the full House for a vote.

Re-enacting Lincoln

As part of a Ken Burns documentary, hundreds of people around the nation are reciting the Gettysburg Address – including dozens in the Idaho Capitol last week. A crew from Idaho Public TV set up in a Statehouse meeting room.

Burns’ documentary, “The Address,” will air on Idaho Public TV on April 15; he’s launched a nationwide challenge to get people to learn more about and recite President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech.

Among the notable Idaho recitations: Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, took a spill on the stairs near the House chamber and hit his head, prompting paramedics to be called. After being checked out by the paramedics, Bateman promptly headed to the taping, with a prominent goose-egg on his forehead, and recited the full Gettysburg Address from memory.

Protester arrests

This year’s Idaho legislative session has now seen nearly 150 arrests of “Add the Words” protesters, who want the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the Idaho Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination protections. The change has been proposed each year for the past eight years, but legislation to accomplish it has never gotten a full committee hearing.

On Tuesday morning, 23 protesters were arrested after they blocked every entrance to Gov. Butch Otter’s office, keeping staffers and the governor himself from starting work in their offices that morning until the protesters were removed.

On Thursday night, three more were arrested when they held a silent vigil in the Capitol rotunda and refused to leave when the building closed for the night.

Close to 100 more protesters turned up at the Capitol this week without incident, some to tell stories of discrimination, some to pray silently, and others in small “flash mobs” singing protest songs.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at or (208) 336-2854.