Idaho legislators gathered Monday in the people’s house, on behalf of the people, to do what’s supposed to be the people’s work. What happened instead was a disgrace to the relationship between lawmakers and their constituencies.
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, was surprised when Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, made an unannounced motion to schedule a hearing on HB 577. The bill would allow some people, including children with a certain type of epilepsy, to obtain a doctor’s prescription to use an oil extracted from cannabis.
Heider, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, disrupted the meeting to ask his fellow committee members to meet privately in his office. While savvy reporters from the Associated Press and Idaho Reports, both formerly of the Times-News, banged on his door to inform him he was violating an open meeting law, he berated his peers for making the motion.
He didn’t want the bill to be heard. But instead of saying so out in the open where his motivations could be analyzed by voters, he chose to hide from his constituency. No matter your stance on cannabis-derived oil, this is not the way our legislators should govern.
Heider’s quotes have been cited extensively in the Times-News and other media outlets, but it’s worth revisiting to understand just how twisted lawmakers’ incentives can be.
“The governor’s office doesn’t want this bill, the prosecutors don’t want this bill, the office of drug policy doesn’t want this bill,” Heider was captured saying in an audio recording by Associated Press reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.
That trio of powerful legislative sources has one glaring omission. Where is the voice of the people?
The bill passed through the House with a vote of 59-11, but Heider found it unworthy of discussion. Instead of sharing on the committee floor why he didn’t want to hear the bill, he opted to take it behind closed doors, confirming some of the most pessimistic suspicions of voters.
When lawmakers go against the wishes of voters and shut down a bill that clears the House, they should be required to do it in public. They should have their words recorded by reporters. They should testify in front of everyone why the wishes of powerful state agencies trump the wishes of voters, even ones with sick kids who could be helped by this bill.
Heider has since apologized for the private meeting, and his Senate panel corrected the rule violation by vacating Monday’s vote.
This time, reporters ensured the legislator's words were made public for everyone to hear. But the message from Heider was crystal clear: It might be the people’s house, but the work that’s done there often serves the people in power, rather than serving the people. And that’s the way some lawmakers prefer it.