BOISE – The Idaho House ground to a halt Monday as a handful of lawmakers fearful about international implications of a bill updating Idaho’s notary laws.
The move forced an hour-plus reading of the 21-page bill before lawmakers approved it with just seven “no votes.
After freshman Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, objected to waiving the requirement to read the bill – a standard step before debate – her colleagues voted to make her read the bill herself, which she did, standing at the podium at the front of the House where the clerk normally stands.
“Sometimes when you do something like that, your friends get frustrated with you and it doesn’t help your cause,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, after the House wrapped up its hours-long afternoon session around 5 p.m., roughly two hours later than planned. “I think that frustrated some.”
Giddings said afterward that her concern was not just with the bill, but with the way the House routinely waives the constitutional requirement for full readings. “I ran on a platform to uphold the Idaho Constitution, and that is all that I did today – nothing more, nothing less,” she said.
Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Christy Zito, R-Hammett, had earlier joined with Giddings to try to kill the notary law update in committee, in part over concerns related to unstable foreign countries. Zito told the House on Monday, “This legislation incorporates United Nations language.”
Scott said, “My problems with this bill is No. 1, it comes from the Uniform Law Commission. … I do not think that we as Idaho legislators should be abdicating our responsibilities to a group of lawyers who believe in centralized planning for the entire country and for foreign government. And so for that reason alone, I’ll be voting against this bill.”
The Uniform Law Commission, established in 1892, is a group of more than 300 attorneys, law professors and judges from across the political spectrum who draft model laws that ease interstate and international transactions. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, has been a member since about 2001.
States decide on their own whether to adopt the model laws; the notary bill is a uniform law that was modified for Idaho.
Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, spoke in favor of the bill, saying he looked into how it actually was drafted, and it was worked over “line by line” by many groups in Idaho, including the Idaho Bankers Association and the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.
“These are Idaho individuals who helped put this bill together to make sure we could transfer properties easier when we’re dealing with people from out of state,” he said. “What this allows us to do is do some electronic transfers … so we can speed up the pace of business.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, the bill’s House sponsor, said, “I’ll have to tell you, I’m not always a fan of uniform code either, because I do believe we need to do our work here in Idaho. But there comes a point where you don’t need to reinvent the wheel on a lot of these things. Each one of these should be looked at. … This is one that I think is very specific. It has to do with authenticating documents that are used in commerce.”
While recognizing the use of electronic signatures and electronic document transfer, the bill doesn’t allow remote notarizing; a notary still would have to see a person sign a document in order to certify that it was that person who signed it.
After Giddings made her objection, Moyle and other members of House GOP leadership conferred with her, and when she refused to drop her objection, Moyle asked for a call of the House. That means all members must be present, and no one can enter or leave the chamber – not even to use the bathroom.
Other House members were surprised by the incident. “It was thoroughly gone over in committee, and the same questions came up,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee. That’s where Giddings, Scott and Zito first object to the bill and tried unsuccessfully to kill it.
Loertscher said if all bills actually were read in full – rather than the full reading waived by unanimous consent – “We’d have a lot less bills … or our sessions would be a lot longer.”
Giddings said she believes that the wording the Senate uses when it waives full reading is more constitutionally correct than that used in the House, because senators ask that the Senate journal reflect that the bill has been read in full, section by section. She said she’d like the House to follow suit. But she made no mention of that issue when she objected and forced the full reading on Monday, which the House then made her do herself.
“I don’t know why I was asked to do the clerk’s job,” Giddings said. But, she said, “I am an avid public speaker and I’m comfortable standing up and talking for hours on end.”
The call of the House remained in effect throughout the nearly two-hour bill reading and debate. It was the first time a call of the House has been imposed in more than a decade, though the Idaho Senate frequently makes such calls.
Freshman Rep. Sally Toone, R-Gooding, said, “Twenty-one pages seemed to waste our resources. We have valuable things to do, and all of us are capable of reading things ahead of time.”
Scott praised the full reading. “I wish all my bills were read out loud to me,” she told the House. When House Speaker Scott Bedke commented, “We can always make that happen,” Scott said, “Well, I kind of like it. I like to be read to.”
Among the verbiage that Giddings read to the House: “Each notary public shall provide and keep an official seal, which shall be a rubber stamp with a serrated or milled-edge border in a rectangular or circular form and includes the words ‘Notary Public,’ the notary public’s name, the words ‘State of Idaho,’ and nothing more.”
“It accomplished nothing. In fact, I could make a strong argument that it was counter-productive,” Bedke said. “I hope all legislators were able to learn from our experience this afternoon. I don’t know that it was necessarily a bad thing. I thought there were some lessons there.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.