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Eye on Boise: Idaho lawmakers restive as session drags on past targeted adjournment date; also, legislative limericks

Idaho House members mill around in their chamber during a lengthy break Thursday, during which Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, were closeted with  leadership over their objections to proceeding with House business. (Betsy Z. Russell / SR)
Idaho House members mill around in their chamber during a lengthy break Thursday, during which Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, were closeted with leadership over their objections to proceeding with House business. (Betsy Z. Russell / SR)

With what was supposed to be the last day of the session past and no agreement yet on a transportation funding bill between the House and Senate, Idaho lawmakers are growing restive.

Late last week, the entire Canyon County House delegation visited the Capitol press room with a message: They want the Senate to approve a highway bill, so the notoriously deteriorating stretch of Interstate 84 in their county can get fixed.

“We’re not leaving till we get it,” said Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said, “We couldn’t get home anyway,” and the whole group laughed ruefully. The heavily congested 30-mile stretch of road routinely takes 90 minutes to drive at rush hour, and is plagued by frequent wrecks.

It’s one of 13 high-priority highway corridors around the state for which Idaho could borrow against its future federal highway allocations through a vehicle called GARVEE bonds; another is U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho. But lawmakers haven’t been able to reach agreement thus far on bonding or other road-funding methods; a major bonding bill died in the Senate last week.

Chaos and confusion

in the House

Chaos and confusion reigned in the Idaho House last week, as a small group of dissident Republicans led by Reps. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, kept objecting to the unanimous consent required to waive a requirement that bills be read in full on the floor, bringing business to a screeching halt.

It came to a head on Thursday, when House members spent 40 minutes milling around their chamber while Scott and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, were closeted with House GOP leaders over their objections.

Compounding the confusion was that it was unclear what the dissidents wanted. The GOP caucus spent two hours behind closed doors that afternoon to try to hash out its differences, but many members still came away puzzled.

Giddings had been insisting that the only constitutionally correct way to waive full reading of a bill is to recite the formal wording that’s used in the Senate, so Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, had his executive assistant, MaryLou Molitor, email that wording to all House members. But even when they used that wording on Thursday morning, the objections continued.

When Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, asked unanimous consent to waive further reading of the Idaho Transportation Department budget bill, which he sponsored as a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Nate objected. So the clerk read the lengthy budget bill in full. Then, the House voted unanimously – 69-0 – in favor of the bill, with no debate.

The next unexplained objection sent the House GOP into the two-hour, closed-door caucus.

Afterward, Bedke said, “I did a lot of listening, and hopefully others were doing a lot of listening. We have a frustrated House here.”

He said unanimous consent is required for the House to function properly, so everyone’s views matter.

“It was interesting, hopefully cathartic, hopefully constructive,” he said. “You’ve got to cowboy up here, and that means you’ve got to do what it takes to do the job.”

If not reason, then rhyme

What was supposed to be the final week of the Legislature’s session this year moved in uneven fits and starts, with a small group of GOP dissidents causing a ruckus in the House, bills unexpectedly getting killed or heavily amended in the Senate, and tempers fraying.

The often-crazed atmosphere at the end of the session tends to drive me, as they say, from bad to verse. So here’s a selection of limericks I penned as the session moved into its final, frenzied phase.

Legislative Limerick No. 1: How to do this more slowly

If all reps were like Heather Scott

The bills would be read a whole lot

Then notary bills

Would serve up fresh kills

And all routine stuff would be fought.

Legislative Limerick No. 2: Oh, the things we’ll overhear …

When Rep. Nate was heard on an open House mike, over the Legislature’s live internet streaming service, saying, “We all know our districts. We know that there are some teachers that are clearly overpaid,” just when he’d been objecting to bill after bill, saying Idaho is spending too much elsewhere that could be used to pay teachers, Nate at first said he didn’t recall the remark, then said it must have been taken out of context and was being used in “dishonest reporting.”

That inspired this limerick:

What more will an open mic catch

Before session’s out for this batch?

True feelings galore

An unjust freedom score?

Let’s wrap this up with dispatch.

Legislative Limerick No. 3: The naysayer of the Senate

Often in the Senate these days, there’s a lone “no” vote on a bill that’s otherwise unanimously supported. Almost invariably, it comes from freshman Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow. He even cast the only “no” vote on the higher education budget bill – a surprising vote from a lawmaker from the home of the University of Idaho. Foreman told Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence that he supports education, but felt there was “too much pork” in the higher ed budget; that budget included $582,000 for the UI’s research library expansion plan.

So, it being that time of the session:

Dan Foreman is known to vote no

Name any idea – he’s a foe

From bikers on runs

To higher ed funds

Could he really be from Moscow?

Legislative Limerick No. 4: ‘I object!’

If things ’round here seem a bit shrill

Don’t think our reps have had their fill.

When adjournment’s proposed

And all debate’s closed

They’ll still want to read the whole bill.

Legislative Limerick No. 5: Sausage-making under a barrage of darts

On what was scheduled to be the next-to-last day of the legislative session on Thursday, the House got through only one bill all morning and just three all day – House Speaker Bedke said, “This is to be expected at the end of the session, and I don’t know why, but I think it might be human nature.”

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis asked the Senate for patience, saying there will be some “hurry-up-and-wait-mode.” Davis said, “This is the time of year that it’s pretty easy to say that we’re all good and they’re all rascals, and vice versa. … If you’ll help me be patient, because that’s not something I’m always very good at at the end of the year, I’d appreciate it.”

Lewiston reporter Spence wrote a column this week headlined “Idaho Legislature moves toward a bruising finish.” It said, “The roller derby days of the session are upon us. We see it every year around this time: the staid deliberations of January and February replaced by whiplash hearings and boomerang bills, legislators bashing and crashing as they rush to meet their self-imposed adjournment deadline.”

So, on the late-session atmosphere in the Statehouse:

Now come the big fits and starts

As lawmakers try to fit parts

Each sausage link

Could still face some kink

And some will still want to throw darts.

Legislative Limerick No. 6: On the 75th legislative day …

What was to be their closing date

Instead has the House in a state

The few still defy

Though they don’t say why

That’s just their right, says Ron Nate.