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There’s a current dust-up among state government entities which, to my way of thinking, shouldn’t be happening because the issue was settled a decade ago when the Capitol was restored and reopened.

It’s a dispute over office space on the building’s first floor. Idaho law (IC 67-1602) gives the Legislature control of that area. Here’s the clear language (2007): “Legislative department. The legislative department shall determine the use of the space on the first, third and fourth floors….All space within the first, third and fourth floors and the basement shall be allocated by the presiding officers of the Senate and House of Representatives.”

The dispute comes from the contention that the state Treasurer’s office, on the first floor, was effectively “grandfathered” in to allow then Treasurer Ron Crane to remain at that location through his time in office. Now, with Crane retired, Legislative leaders want to use the space, but are getting pushback from the new Treasurer, Julie Ellsworth, who wants to stay where she is. She claims her office space “territory” was permanently allocated when the capitol reopened in 2010. The matter is now before a 4th District Court judge. (Idaho Press, Oct. 23, 2019).

I served on the Idaho Capitol Commission for almost two decades, as a public representative, and later as a legislative appointee from the House (1998-2016). There were some compromises along the way in the building’s restoration, but we didn’t grandfather anyone into permanent use of capitol space. I retired from the House in 2018 and don’t have any “dog in the fight” between current legislative leadership and Treasurer Ellsworth, herself a former House member.

At the time, the Capitol master plan envisioned two-level, underground (basement) wings, one for the Senate and one on the House side. Then Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said he would approve only one level of office wings, and that was what was built. They serve as Senate and House offices and committee hearing rooms today. The House side offices are pretty basic and with support staff, are quite crowded during the annual sessions.

But we all made do. Yes, there’s little office privacy and after ten years in the restored building, its evident more space is now needed. But no, it’s not part of some devious plan to create a “full-time, year-round” Legislature, as some have contended. That’s just another bunch of hooey from those who see dark conspiracies in every issue.

The restored capitol, which reopened in 2010, is widely regarded for its majesty and practical use of space. I’m proud of my time on the Commission and consider it one of my best “public service” efforts. People tell me frequently that the Idaho Capitol is indeed Idaho’s premier public building of which they are extremely proud to show off to family and visitors from out-of-state.

Clarifying the allocation of space in the restored building was the reason behind the statute which passed in 2007. From being involved in those discussions all along the way, I can say unequivocally that there was never any intent to grandfather in or provide “permanent” space to any entity beyond the floor allocations in the statute itself.

The 2007 statute was intended to clarify which branch of government would have direct say on space allocation in Idaho’s capitol. It says plainly that the Legislature has control of the first floor. It seems pretty straightforward to me.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, ret., R-Twin Falls, served five terms in the Idaho House of Representatives from 2008-2018 where he chaired the Commerce & Human Resources Committee, and also served on the Idaho Capitol Commission, 1998-2016.

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Stephen Hartgen is a retired member of the Idaho House of Representatives.

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