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Idaho lawmakers pledge to open up tax discussions

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers say there will be no more secret meetings of a group working on state tax policy.

From now on, all meetings will be open to the public and follow notice requirements of the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

The panel, with 11 of its 12 House and Senate members present, met Sept. 17 at the state Capitol, with only a paper notice posted before the meeting in the basement of the building. All other legislative task forces and interim committees have been meeting publicly, with their sessions streamed live online and agendas posted on the Internet well before each gathering. There are 10 such committees, which deal with such topics as broadband access and urban renewal.

“If we’re going to be an interim committee, even though we weren’t authorized during the legislative session and formally put together … I darn sure want to follow all the rules that any interim committee would be expected to follow,” said Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, who’s co-chairman of the Tax Working Group.

Accordingly, a meeting notice posted on the Legislature’s website Monday says the group will meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Capitol, and its proceedings will be streamed live online. The lawmakers will hear presentations on existing Idaho tax exemptions and credits; economic trends among small and large Idaho businesses; and comparisons of Idaho’s tax rates to other states’.

The Sept. 17 meeting followed three earlier meetings of legislative leaders and the Senate and House tax chairs, including one in which they traveled to Utah to learn about tax legislation that was passed there. None of those meetings were open.

“At the start, it was a conversation more than anything else,” said Eric Milstead, director of Idaho’s Legislative Services Office. “But it kind of morphed into something more formal.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke noted that no quorum of either house’s tax committee was present at any of the meetings.

But the Idaho Open Meeting Law, which legislative rules echo, generally applies to any group established to make recommendations to a governing body, even if the group doesn’t contain a quorum of that body.

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