Greetings from Boise: The tricky business of amending bills, and other updates

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

It is the duty of the Legislature each session to set and approve a balanced state budget. I believe it’s the only required duty. We have a considerable number of bills to pass to fulfill this obligation. Of most recent concern is the holding of appropriation bills on the House floor and doing the same with all Senate bills. I’m told this effort is to help with negotiations between the Senate and House leadership, and the governor. The original plan was for us to be finished  on Friday, March 24. Things are getting contentious, too. 

Recently, an Education Committee member abruptly left our meeting after a vote didn’t support a bill she favored. Before leaving she made a point of scolding those who voted against the bill and disparaging the person (and his bill) next to her. She hasn’t returned. 

We get a lot of emails. Lately we average about 125-150 a day. This is understandable. It is good to hear the insight of so many. Most encourage a certain way to vote on an issue. Some are positive, some are negative. Many point out how we should have voted. Some are threatening. The same holds for phone calls. Some messages are late by several days, meaning the votes have already happened. 

Rep. Mark Sauter. File photo.

It’s worth noting that not all votes are “yea” or “nay.” Some votes during a bill hearing give direction to the bill author to make edits or more substantial changes. These votes don’t necessarily stop a bill. The bill just gets amended before it is moved forward. However, to some, the vote to direct an amending procedure is a vote against the original bill and against an issue. 

Voting on a bill — no matter the direction of the vote — does establish a legislator’s position on an issue. Often, within an hour or two of a vote, posts start to appear on social media. The wording may go something like, “[fill in the name] doesn’t support kids, or families, etc.” The truth is the legislator may be supportive of the bill concept, but believe the current bill isn’t what it should be. Obviously, politics can be inserted into this mix as well. 

An example of this problem occurred with two recent library bills. House Bill 139 was a broadly written bill that carried civil fines for libraries found distributing questionable materials to minors. This type of enforcement language has been called a “private cause of action.” Plaintiffs who bring these types of complaints may be awarded thousands of dollars and are often given years to file their complaints after an alleged incident occurred.

HB 227 directed libraries to develop policies to cover the security of objectionable materials — that is, keeping minors away from certain content — and how parents could protest materials they found problematic.

Both bills defined obscene materials in a similar way and dealt with an issue that has been in the news for the last couple of years. They both failed to get a “do-pass” recommendation of approval in committee, but for different reasons. As a result, the bill authors were encouraged to work together to develop a bill that would give direction for library board policy, improve the confidence for parents and have some consequences. 

Today I learned another library bill will be introduced soon. I’m told the new bill has the fine portion reduced to $2,500 per event. I haven’t read the bill yet. The story is the bill will go before the State Affairs Committee this time instead of the Education Committee, like last time. Apparently the bill authors are hopeful they can get approval this time.

The Education Committee will soon hear a school bathroom bill. Since last Thursday evening, I’ve received about 1,700 — yes, 1,700 — emails supporting the bill. Interestingly, our three school superintendents all support the direction of the bill. So I will likely be supporting the bill as well.

What’s the point here? It’s that sometimes it takes time to work out the details of a bill. Yes, it can take too long, and the final product isn’t always perfect. But it can be better than it would have been on the first try. 

Finally, we just passed a property tax relief bill (HB 292). I will write about it next week. As expected, there was little time to consider it. It was first rolled out the afternoon before the vote, and will likely be the only tax relief bill we get to vote on this session. The bill is a mix of actions that should help our homeowners and our schools. 

Rep. Mark Sauter is a first-term Republican legislator representing District 1A. He serves on the Agricultural Affairs; Education; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees. Contact him at [email protected].

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