The Idaho Legislature finally adjourned sine die on Wednesday — officially the 311th day of the session — after passing a single joint memorial.
You should read the entire memorial produced by these three days of sound and fury.
As you read, glance down to the third word of the 14th line: “the.”
That word cost you about $173.41. So did the one before it, the one after it and every other word in the memorial. It generally costs about $30,000 to operate the Legislature for one day, and the final work product of the three-day reconvened session was this 519-word exercise.
At the Idaho Legislature, talk is not cheap.
But more than money was lost during the do-nothing session.
The real cost of this November reconvened session is not measured in dollars, but in shattered norms and precedents.
Until this year, the Legislature has met for around three months at the beginning of each year, and then gone home.
Every year, there is conflict — that is simply the nature of any legislative body. Every year, there are some issues that go unresolved, and a significant number of lawmakers are dissatisfied. Many want to continue the session.
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But until this year, both chambers of the Legislature had eventually decided that it was time to cut bait on the remaining issues and come back next year.
And on very rare occasions, the governor will call the Legislature back to deal with a specific issue that cannot wait. That limitation is a key check on the power of the legislative branch.
But this year, the House, and particularly the Republican leadership, failed to end the regular session as they should. In a move that was never contemplated by the framers of the Idaho Constitution, the House decided simply to recess, meaning that it was inevitable that lawmakers would return to the Capitol. And an attorney general’s opinion indicated that the Senate — which had properly adjourned — likely has to return if the House does.
Make no mistake: The ground is now fertile for Idaho to shift to a year-round legislative body.
Even House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, conceded to this editorial board last week that in future sessions, lawmakers likely would use this technique of going into recess indefinitely so that they can call themselves back into session — without the restrictions placed on them if called back into a special session by the governor.
Now is not the time to expand the powers of the Legislature, but to rein them in. The Legislature has railed against anything it perceives to be overreach by the governor, the federal government, businesses, the courts — everyone but itself. It has, again and again, passed laws that it was warned were unconstitutional, only later to lose court challenges — predictably — and waste tons of money and time along the way.
It is the GOP-dominated Legislature, more than any other part of Idaho’s government, that needs checks and balances today.
So consider this an early warning: Voters should absolutely reject the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2022 that would allow the Legislature to call itself back into session. What would Idaho have in store if that constitutional amendment were to pass? Just what we got a taste of this week — a waste of time and taxpayer money.
Conservatives used to love digging deep into federal budgets to find someone who paid $100 for a hammer, clear proof of government waste. The Legislature just spent $173.41 on the word “the.”
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.