Legislative Update: Successful governance relies on building relationships

By Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint
Reader Contributor

The Idaho Legislature opened for business Jan. 4 with the state’s constitutional officers taking the oath of office. Five days later, Gov. Brad Little laid out the condition of Idaho in his State of the State Address, giving some guidelines and recommendations for the 70 representatives and 35 senators assembled in the Legislature.

However, there are many variations of what is best for the people of Idaho and a legislature often has a mind of its own. The 105 lawmakers began floor discussions the day after the governor’s report. Freshman like me and the veteran legislators alike have been off and running since.

Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint. File photo.

I plan to provide readers with a balanced, regularly published narrative on how the legislative process goes from here forward. I will keep you (my constituents) informed of this experience. By nature, the Legislature is a deliberative body. I don’t intend to provide a minute-by-minute chronicle of Capitol activities. Rather, I will attempt to bring readers into the legislative process.

I am committed to being a responsible representative for Bonner and Boundary counties (Legislative District 1). What does that mean? It means listening to parents, students, employers and educators so that I understand what Idaho’s educational system requires. It means listening and learning from our local businesses and what they need to thrive. It means having concern about tax burdens and balancing public safety needs. And it means forming a balanced understanding of constituents’ needs.

This endeavor comes with pitfalls. There will be things that pop up in the news. I will try to give perspective to those events and of state governance by presenting broad and diverse explanations. I intend to keep daily notes through this session, recording insights and actions worthy of conversations and reporting.

The legislative voting record of each lawmaker is a public record. But voting records don’t tell the whole story. Votes are actions that require a simple “aye” or “nay.” Often, it is far more complex. For instance, I can’t give 70% of my approval for a bill and hold back 30% of my support. I must vote based on a bill’s positive and negative aspects. Well thought out bills can have unintended consequences.

As a freshman legislator, the key to getting anything accomplished is working with fellow lawmakers. It takes 36 votes to get anything through the House of Representatives, another 18 votes to find success in the Senate and one final weigh-in by the governor with an approving signature before a bill becomes law.

But that’s only the public action on a proposed law. It all starts with the researching and writing of a bill, building support for the ideas behind it and getting an appropriate number assigned. The printed proposal is then assigned to an appropriate committee for discussion and debate. If it receives committee approval, it is sent to the appropriate chamber for potential floor debate. If a bill is approved on the House floor, the process starts again in the Senate. 

The success or failure of legislative governance often relies on building relationships with other lawmakers. It takes time to get to know your colleagues and build trust. Our priorities in North Idaho are not necessarily shared in eastern Idaho. Not everything that works in Boise will benefit Bonners Ferry. 

That said, lawmakers share many of the same concerns, such as taxes, education, health, public safety, infrastructure and the economy. The freshman legislators who share my office area have similar concerns on these issues.

Regular committee meetings have started. Like most lawmakers, I have at least three daily meetings for which to prepare, attend and participate in four days a week. There are usually two morning meetings on Fridays, with afternoons left open for other gatherings and meetings, constituent follow-up, administrative work and travel.

Speaker of the House Mike Moyle has assigned me to three standing committees: Agriculture, Education and Judiciary. The Education Committee meets every morning. The Ag and “Jud-rules” committees each meet two afternoons a week. 

I have volunteered for a statewide committee looking into the delivery of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to rural areas of Idaho. This group meets monthly and I serve as its representative for the House.

The governor’s staff notified me late last week of my appointment to the Governors Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council. I will learn a lot more about the expectations and work of this committee this week. I’m hopeful I can provide a voice for the needs of our district in any future action this board takes.

Feel free to provide me with feedback, ideas and comments at [email protected].

Rep. Mark Sauter is a first-term Republican legislator from District 1A. He serves on the Agricultural Affairs; Education; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees.

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