After COVID scare, Idaho Legislature back in session Tuesday. Here’s how to follow along.
Live video streaming of all committees offered for 1st time due to pandemic
The Idaho State Capitol on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
When the Idaho Legislature reconvenes Tuesday following an abrupt 17-day recess brought on by a COVID-19 Statehouse outbreak, Idahoans will be able to follow the action without leaving their home or office.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature and Idaho Public Television have offered live streaming video of all committee hearings and floor sessions in both the House and Senate all session via the Legislature’s website for the first time.
Hollie Conde, the legislative and public lands coordinator for Conservation Voters for Idaho, and Kendal Shaber, a Boise-based historian, say the streaming video feeds and information on the Legislature’s website (including links to bills and committee agendas) helps them track the session safely and remotely during the pandemic.
How does a bill become a law?
A committee vote is only one step of the process. The journey can get complicated, but here’s a simplified example of a traditional path a bill might take. Keep in mind, a bill has to complete this journey through both the House and Senate before reaching Gov. Brad Little’s desk for final consideration.
- Introduction of a bill by a legislator or legislators in a germane committee.
- First reading of the bill, referred to a committee.
- Bill reported out of committee.
- Second reading of the bill.
- Third reading of the bill, debate and floor vote.
- Referred to the other legislative chamber to repeat the process beginning with first reading.
- Sent to the governor for final consideration. Once a bill reaches the governor’s desk, the governor may sign it into law, allow it to become law with their signature or veto it. The Legislature may overturn a veto via a two-thirds vote of those present in each chamber.
If that’s tricky to follow, the Legislature’s website has a more detailed explanation. There’s also the classic cartoon music video for “I’m Just a Bill,” from School House Rock!, for a lighter perspective.
Conde watches the streaming video session on a computer every day the Legislature is in session. Conde uses it to closely track the state affairs and resources and conservation committees in both chambers, along with watching the floor sessions and a handful of other committees.
“The streaming service makes my job possible this session,” Conde said. “In a typical year, the CVI lobbyist would be in the building every day. Some things would be streamed, but so much of the work is conducted in person.”
This year’s remote streaming programs represent an expansion of the existing Idaho in Session service, which previously offered audio of committee hearings, but not live video from each hearing. Streaming video of House and Senate floor sessions has been offered for years.
This year, the Legislature is also accepting remote video testimony from Idahoans, although individual committee chairmen and chairwomen sometimes decided whether and how often to accept such testimony.
In previous years, aside from a limited number of remote testimony opportunities, Idahoans who wished to testify during a committee hearing had no choice but to travel to the Statehouse in Boise and do so in person. Because Idaho legislative sessions begin each January and generally last for about 80 days, testifying would require people from eastern Idaho or north Idaho to make long drives, often during the heart of winter.
Shaber says the video streaming and remote testimony opportunities open up state government to more Idahoans, regardless of what part of the state they live in.
Otherwise, from Idaho Falls it’s about a 250-mile drive to Boise.
From Coeur d’Alene, it’s about 380 miles.
“This is a really important development and I hope it stays with us past the pandemic,” Shaber said.
HELPFUL LINKS TO FOLLOW SESSION
Idaho in Session streams free live video of all committee hearings and floor votes and debates.
House committee agendas and Senate committee agendas show which committees meet when and what bills they will consider. Take note of the meeting room (examples of committee rooms include East Wing-42, West Wing 17 and the Lincoln Auditorium) the committee hearing takes place in so you will know which room to click on to watch the correct room. Agendas are often available online the night before a meeting, but they can sometimes change or be added with little or no notice, especially late in the session. It’s a good idea to check agendas often to catch any changes.
The bill center is where all the legislation introduced this year is found. At first, it can be intimidating. Legislators have introduced about 540 bills this year, along with additional resolutions, memorials and proclamations. The website allows users to search through the bills based on bill number or subject.
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