Legislative leaders approve text for proposed amendment to Idaho’s Constitution

Republican and Democratic lawmakers feuded Tuesday over the language of a proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution before the GOP majority approved the language that will be put to voters in November.

The debate played out during Tuesday’s Council on Legislation session at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise and decided how Senate Joint Resolution 102, or SJR 102, will be presented on the November 8 general ballot. If a simple majority of Idaho voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the Idaho Legislature could vote to reconvene at any time.

Currently, the Idaho Constitution states that only the governor has the authority to call the legislature into a special session, officially known in legislative parlance as an extraordinary session.

The Idaho Legislature currently convenes an organizational session on the first Thursday in December after a general election, and then meets in regular session beginning in January.

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Since 2000, Idaho governors have called four special legislative sessions — 2000, 2006, 2015 and most recently in 2020.

During the 2021 regular term, Republicans in the Idaho state legislature passed joint Senate Resolution 102 after declaring that lawmakers must have the power to recall themselves into session to deal with issues that are could arise, having already been adjourned for the year. Usually there is an adjournment In late March or early April. Democrats and a few moderate Republicans opposed the proposed change, saying the governor already has the ability to call a special session and the current system includes checks and balances.

If the voters accept the change, the President pro tem of the Idaho Senate and the Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives would call the legislature to a special session “not later than 15 days after receipt of a joint written petition from at least 60% of the Members of each House specifying the subjects to be dealt with and to state that the legislature shall have no powers in a such special meeting to discuss or adopt bills or resolutions on subjects other than those mentioned in the petition and those necessary to cover the expenses of the meeting.

If a majority of voters do not vote in favor of joint Senate Resolution 102, the Idaho Constitution will not be changed and only the governor may call a special session — as is the case today.

What did Idaho lawmakers disagree on during discussions of the proposed constitutional amendment?

Predictably, Tuesday’s debate turned political. Most of the debate focused on the statements for and against the proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot.

Democrats on the Legislative Council favored adopting language against the proposed constitutional amendment, stating that passage of the amendment “would open a path for those who want a professional, full-time legislature in which lawmakers would live full-time in Boise and only visit their districts received.” occasionally most, if not all, of their wages from the state government and are cut off from the needs and desires of those they are assigned to represent.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this change opens that avenue,” said Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. “Just look at what happened in the 2021 session, even without that change, where the legislature did not adjourn until November 17 of that year.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls and other Republicans opposed the inclusion of language that suggested some lawmakers wanted to be there full-time.

“To assume that I didn’t vote to the death (adjourned) because I wanted full-time employment is incorrect. I voted this way because I want to retain the right of people to act on behalf of their elected representatives in a very uncertain and difficult and rapidly evolving situation.”

In the end, Republicans instead approved language “against” the amendment, which emphasized that the Idaho legislature is a part-time citizen legislature. “The proposed amendment places no restrictions on how often special sessions may be convened or how long they may last,” the approved wording reads. “Idaho should not move toward a full-time legislature, and Idaho’s part-time civil legislators with other careers should not be burdened with sudden, unpredictable special sessions.”

Meanwhile, Burgoyne defied language “for” the proposed change, which Gov. Brad Little criticized, saying the governor had “delayed the convening of the legislature” in 2020. Although, as Burgoyne pointed out, Little has called a special meeting for August 24, 2020. In the end, Republicans opted Tuesday to keep the language they used to criticize Little.

The November vote in Idaho may also include a question on the Education Funding Initiative

The proposed constitutional amendment in SJR 102 is not the only issue likely to appear on the November 8th Idahoan ballot. The announcement was made by leaders of the nonpartisan nonprofit organization Reclaim Idaho exceeded their signature collection goal for a question on the Education Funding initiative in the November election.

Reclaim Idaho Vista team co-lead Cameron Crow and volunteer Natalie Morse knock on the door September 8, 2021 in Boise, Idaho to collect signatures for the Quality Education Act ballot initiative. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

If county and state election officials confirm that Reclaim Idaho received the correct number and distribution of signatures, voters would decide whether to approve a proposal to raise more than $300 million in funding for public schools by increasing the $6 % is increased to 8%. and creating a new tax bracket of 10.925% for individuals earning more than $250,000 per year and for families earning more than $500,000 per year.

Reclaim Idaho executives said they expect county officials to complete their signature verification process towards the end of June. If Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act qualifies for the November vote, a simple majority of voters would be required to approve the education funding initiative.

Here is the language for and against the proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 102, which lawmakers approved on Tuesday.

Comments on the proposed change:

  1. This constitutional amendment is necessary to correct a power imbalance between the three branches of government. The executive and judiciary branches of government have no limitations in their ability to conduct business when and how they see fit, and the legislature should have equal power.
  2. Idaho is one of only 12 states whose legislature does not have the power to call a special session in certain circumstances. The Idaho legislature should not depend on the governor to call it into special session when extraordinary events occur. For example, the Idaho Legislature was scheduled to meet in 2020 to discuss COVID-19 issues and federal fund spending related to the pandemic, but the governor delayed convening the Legislature. Idaho should join the 28 states (including all of Idaho’s neighboring states) in recognizing the right of the legislature to independently determine when to meet and conduct the business of those it represents.
  3. Authorizing the legislature to call special sessions avoids having either or both houses of the legislature have to postpone adjournment indefinitely, as happened in 2021 when the House of Representatives wanted to preserve its right to take up anticipated issues later in the year . Postponing the date of the adjournment indefinitely creates numerous administrative problems, such as: B. the delay in the entry into force of laws and administrative regulations. If the legislature is able to convene itself, there is no need to avoid an indefinite adjournment.
  4. The proposed amendment provides sufficient safeguards against any potential abuse of power by limiting legislative issues to be considered during a special session to those listed in the petition, just as a special session called by the governor is limited to issues listed in the governor’s petition and proclamation.

Opinions against the proposed change:

  1. The legislature has been conducting its business for over 130 years without needing the ability to call itself special sessions. This constitutional amendment is not necessary because the governor has called, and can continue to call, the legislature in special session when necessary. Passing this amendment would remove control and balance from the Idaho Constitution.
  2. The Idaho Legislature is a part-time citizen legislature. The proposed change places no restrictions on how often special meetings can be called or how long they can last. Idaho should not move toward a full-time legislature, and Idaho’s part-time civil legislators with other careers should not be burdened with sudden, unpredictable special sessions.
  3. Idaho businesses and citizens need the stable, predictable, and routine schedule of the regular legislative session to communicate with legislators about the impact upcoming legislation may have on businesses and citizens. The ability of the Legislature to convene various special sessions can result in the passing of laws that have not been properly reviewed and have unintended consequences for Idaho businesses and citizens.
  4. The proposed change requires a petition signed by only 60% of members of each house of the legislature. This threshold is too low. Many states require a higher percentage, e.g. e.g. 67% or 75%. A higher percentage would discourage the legislature from convening on issues that are trivial, vague, or not universally agreed.

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