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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Only in Idaho have lawmakers changed school science standards on climate change

This full-page ad, placed by the American Beverage Institute, ran in the Idaho Statesman in Boise on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (Idaho Statesman)
This full-page ad, placed by the American Beverage Institute, ran in the Idaho Statesman in Boise on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (Idaho Statesman)

It turns out Idaho is the only state in which legislators have successfully removed references to climate change from school science standards.

The Weather Channel, in an article headlined “Idaho: Far From Standard,” reports that in six other states – Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming – lawmakers tried to do the same, but failed. Idaho’s the only one where they succeeded.

Idaho is currently gathering public input about the move in preparation for redrafting its school science standards; at public hearings around the state, public comment has been overwhelmingly against the Legislature’s move. The standards provide the minimum that schools are expected to teach; teachers can go beyond them. You can read the Weather Channel’s full report at

Vetoes and time limits …

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is taking issue with something I said a week ago on Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” program. I said that there is “no limit” to how long the Legislature takes to present a bill to the governor, and she’s got a good point. As Boyle points out, in the Joint Rules of the Senate and House, Rules 4 and 5 do address this: Rule 4 says that bills shall be “enrolled” in the house where they passed within 48 hours, and Rule 5 says that the remaining steps after enrollment – reporting and then signing by the presiding officer of each house, followed by presentation to the governor – shall all happen within 72 hours of enrollment. That means the two joint rules, taken together, allow a maximum of five days after passage before a bill is presented to the governor.

“Those rules, along with the Constitution, are for the protection of the process so no one can play games with bills which have passed both bodies,” Boyle said. “Together the rules, backed by the Constitution, protect the legislature, the governor and the citizens to assure everyone the rule of law applies to all. This is exactly why we feel the lawsuit is necessary.”

During the legislative session, the governor has five days after a bill is presented to him by the Legislature to either sign or veto it, or it becomes law without his (or her) signature. After lawmakers have adjourned for the year, the Constitution says the governor has 10 days after adjournment to act on a bill or it becomes law; the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that the 10-day clock starts ticking when the bill is presented to the governor, rather than on the date of adjournment.

That’s the subject of a lawsuit filed by 30 members of the Legislature – including Boyle – challenging Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of the grocery tax repeal. The lawmakers contend that while Otter was within 10 days if the clock started ticking when he received the bill, he missed the 10-day deadline if the clock instead starts ticking upon adjournment. If they persuade the high court to overturn its long-standing precedent, the grocery tax repeal bill could become law.

The rules of the House and Senate are set by the Legislature itself; they can be changed at any time by vote of either house, or for joint rules, by a two-thirds vote of both houses. This year, the House approved amendments to a rule regarding contests of election results; the Senate added a new rule also dealing with contests of election results.

“They could change their rule and just sit on it,” said Steve Taggart, and Idaho Falls attorney who has researched these issues.

So who enforces the rules of the Legislature? The Legislature itself enforces the rules; courts give deference to the Legislature in the operation of its own internal rules, under the doctrine of separation of powers and also specifically under Article 3, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution.

In the 1978 Cenarrusa v. Andrus decision, the Idaho Supreme Court wrote, “In this case, the choice is between a construction of our constitutional language which would provide a definite amount of time for gubernatorial consideration of bills, and one which would have the effect of allowing the legislature to determine the amount of time allowed to a governor, severely limiting it if the legislature so chose.”

And while taking note of the legislative rules, the court held, “There is no provision on our Constitution governing the time within which the legislature must present bills to the governor, and it is not for this Court to impose any limitation as to time. … Our Constitution itself contains nothing which precludes presentation of bills more than 10 days after adjournment sine die. If we were to hold that the governor was without power to veto a bill more than 10 days after adjournment, the legislature would be in a position to defeat at will one of the constitutionally granted powers of a separate and coequal branch of government merely by delaying presentment beyond the time in which the governor could act.”

Not the usual tourism pitch …

The American Beverage Institute placed an eye-catching full-page ad in the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise last week, headlined: “UTAH: COME FOR VACATION, LEAVE ON PROBATION,” picturing a mock mug shot of a young woman charged in Salt Lake County for the crime of “had one drink with dinner.” The ad declares, “Time for Idahoans to rethink their vacation plans!”

Statesman reporter John Sowell reports that a newly passed Utah law lowering the blood-alcohol standard for drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.05 doesn’t take effect until the end of 2018, and that while Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill last month, he’s said he’s planning to call a special session of the Utah Legislature later this summer to reconsider it. Tourism and beverage groups are furious, saying the new standard would consider a 120-pound woman who had one glass of wine with dinner and then drove home guilty of drunk driving. “We’re sending a message that maybe Colorado or Montana are better places to go for a ski vacation – or stay home in Idaho,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, told the Statesman.

Idaho sends more vacationers to Utah than any other state except California, the institute says, with Nevada at No. 3.

Session wasn’t longest

This year’s Idaho legislative session certainly felt extremely long – endless, at times – but according to the Sine Die Report, which is now out, it was actually the fourth-shortest session in the past 10 years. The 80-day session was five days longer than last year’s 75-day session, but nine days shorter than the 89-day 2015 session. The only sessions in the past decade that were shorter than this year’s were 2016; 2014 (74 days); and 2010 (78 days).

The longest Idaho legislative session in the past decade was 2009’s 117-day marathon. In both 2011 and 2013, the session ran for 88 days.

The session with the greatest number of bills enacted into law over the past decade was 2008, with 410, compared to this year’s 337. That year, the session ran for 87 days.

The Sine Die Report, published each year by the Legislative Services Office and including summaries of major legislation, the budget and more, is now posted on the Legislature’s website.

Labrador town halls in CdA, Lewiston

Idaho’s 1st District GOP congressman has announced town-hall meetings in Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene this coming week, both on Friday, May 5. Raul Labrador will take questions from constituents in Lewiston at 11 a.m. at Lewis-Clark State College, Silverthorne Theater; and at 6:30 p.m. in Coeur d’Alene at Lake City High School Auditorium, 6101 Ramsey Road.

Labrador held a town-hall meeting in Nampa last week that drew about 350 people; and one in Meridian the week before that drew more than 700.

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