Here we have Idaho: What’s happening this week at the Idaho Legislature

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The 2021 Idaho Legislature has reached its halfway point, with little to claim as an accomplishment. As reporter William L. Spence wrote Feb. 17 in the Lewiston Morning Tribune — his op-ed also carried on the front page of the Idaho Press — the Republican supermajority in both House and Senate has spent the past six weeks unsuccessfully tilting at the governor’s emergency powers and throwing up roadblocks to the disbursement of Idaho’s federal COVID-19 aid monies.

“We’re trying to get something that works and that doesn’t upset the apple cart,” Spence quoted House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, referring to legislation that limits the executive branch’s authority.

The state Capitol in Boise. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Yet, as Spence wrote, “House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel [D-Boise] said upsetting the apple cart is pretty much the only thing Republicans accomplished during the first five weeks of the session.”

As Rubel said, “From my perspective, just about everything they’ve done has been singularly unhelpful.”

The governor’s own legislative agenda has gone untouched, Spence noted, writing “As the session enters its sixth week, only a handful of appropriations bills related to the [‘Building Idaho’s Future’ one-off $450 million tax relief and $360 million transportation, education and infrastructure funding] effort have come out of committee, and no significant tax relief legislation has even been introduced.”

Republican lawmakers — including Blanchard Rep. Heather Scott — spent part of Feb. 17 arguing about why federal funding for the senior citizens’ “meals on wheels” program should be delayed or foregone entirely.

Scott stated, “I’m not against the aging, but what I am against is moving supplemental money around so it’s … hard to find for citizens,” according to Idaho Press. She added that she is opposed to “too much money for the government to take care of the aging when it should be coming from our neighbors and our churches.”

House Bill 123, which would appropriate $862,400 to the Idaho Commission on Aging under the federally approved COVID-19 aid bill, passed on a vote of 57-11. It now moves to the Senate.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Idahoans signed on to testify for and against a bill brought by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, that would make the Idaho ballot initiative process harder, requiring 6% of all qualified voters in 18 of 35 legislative districts to approve of any such measure before it goes to the polls. Senate Bill 1110 has drawn support from those who argue it evens the field for rural districts, while others say it makes a difficult citizen-led effort even more difficult. The measure will be up for further testimony Friday, Feb. 19.

Finally, as Idaho Press Capitol correspondent Betsy Z. Russell put it Feb. 17, “things are getting tasty here at the Statehouse,” as an unruly crowd of protesters filled the Garden Level of the Capitol building in opposition to the “targeted picketing” bill fronted by Republican Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell and Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, that would prohibit individuals from gathering at elected officials’ homes to demonstrate their grievances.

Idaho State Police made one arrest — David Pettinger, who had an outstanding warrant, and was also taken into custody on Day 1 of the 2021 session after a previous demonstration at an Ada County commissioner’s home.

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