Idaho legislative session to become longest in state history

Legislators all but finished their work but are taking another recess until May 12

By: - May 5, 2021 8:07 pm
Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder (R, Boise)

Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder (R, Boise) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

After 115 bruising and divisive days under the Statehouse rotunda, Idaho legislators all but finished their business Wednesday night and called another recess until May 12. 

The recess guarantees the 2021 legislative session will be the longest in state history. 

Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, pushed Senate Concurrent Resolution 111 to facilitate the recess. Both the Senate and House passed the resolution Wednesday. 

It allows the Legislature to take a recess starting Thursday and return May 12. The resolution terminates automatic per diem for legislators during the recess, Winder said. Their salaries are fixed and not affected by the length of the session. 

But Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammettt, said House members would be able to submit receipts for hotel, housing, food or gas during the recess to House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, for reimbursement. 

The recess is strategic. It allows legislators to wait and see whether Gov. Brad Little vetoes any of the dozens of bills that advanced through the Legislature this week, including newly passed bills designed to limit a governor’s authority and restrict emergency declarations. 

Little has already vetoed two bills that were aimed at limiting gubernatorial authority and emergency declarations. 

“The purpose of this (recess) would be to allow the five-day period for (Little) to determine whether to sign into law or to veto any bills that were on his desk on the 6th,” Winder said.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said on the floor that the Senate would finish its business Wednesday night and then go at recess, would not meet on Thursday and would return May 12.

“We’ve come to the end, which is a beautiful place to be,” Anthon said as the Senate called a recess shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday.

The House also went at recess shortly before 9 p.m., moments after the Senate.

When legislators return to the Statehouse on May 12, they would be able to attempt to override any vetoes. Legislators could also pick back up again and keep introducing and debating bills for an unlimited amount of time. The resolution does not obligate them to adjourn the session when they return, and there is no limit to the length of legislative sessions in state law or the Idaho Constitution. 

Wednesday was the 115th day of the session, which convened Jan. 11. The longest session in state history ran for 118 days in 2003. When legislators return from recess May 12, it will be day 122 of the session. The days from the recess, and all previous recesses this session, count towards the total. 

The entire Legislature took an abrupt recess March 19 following a COVID-19 outbreak in the Idaho House, and returned to work April 6. The Senate took two other shorter recesses as it waited for the House to pass state budget bills the House had rejected or held up. 

Senate Democrats make unsuccessful effort to adjourn session

Wednesday started with an unsuccessful effort from Senate Democrats to immediately adjourn the session sine die for the year. 

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, made the motion.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and other Senate Democrats supported the motion to end the season.

“I fear that we are never going to leave and that we are becoming a full-time legislature,” Wintrow said. “Many of these things could have been secured and finished very early in the session, but instead we have been addressing things that are probably least important to the people. We have been begging, practically, for this to be done.”

Winder strongly opposed the motion to adjourn.

“I don’t understand why we have this motion on the floor at this time; we still have a lot of work to do for the people of Idaho,” Winder said on the floor. “I think it’s a slap in the people’s face of Idaho.”

The effort may have been more about sending a message of disgust to Republicans rather than a serious attempt to end the session. When Burgoyne made the motion to adjourn, several state budget bills and the traditional omnibus resolution to extend state agency rules had yet to pass 

Idaho residents, Democratic legislators criticize rapid process of legislative endgame

Even though the legislative session is approaching the longest in state history and has been marked by delays and logjams, things have been moving at an extremely rapid pace this week. 

For instance, House Bill 389 is a 26-page property tax bill that was introduced Monday before passing the House on Tuesday and passing the Senate on Wednesday. 

The entire legislative journey took about 48 hours amid a frenzy to wrap up unfinished business this week. 

During a normal legislative session (outside of the final days, which are always rushed) it might take two weeks or more for a bill to be introduced, heard in committee and sent to the floor of each chamber for a vote. Instead, legislators suspended rules to place House Bill 389 and many other bills on a fast track this week so they could be heard and voted on before legislators wrapped up their business. 

Several Idaho residents criticized the process during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. They were concerned about the process behind Senate Bill 1218

That bill, which had just been introduced the day before, is designed to prohibit commercial promotion or advertisement of schedule one controlled substances. Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, said the point of the bill was to ban advertising and promoting drugs in the same way advertising for tobacco is prohibited. Grow said he is bringing the bill now because he recently was made aware of highway billboards advertising “drugs that are currently illegal in the state of Idaho.”

The bill would prohibit legal marijuana dispensaries located just across the state line in Ontario Oregon, and in other cities from putting up billboards or handing out flyers in Idaho.  

Several residents worried the bill had been rushed, could create First Amendment issues and could create problems for hemp farmers. 

“This was a sham of democracy to post a bill late Tuesday night, post no announcement of when it’s going to be heard, post no link for anyone to testify against it on it online and require us to sit around in the halls for three hours to see whether or not you guys were going to come here and have a meeting,” Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Citizens Coalition, told members of the Senate State Affairs Committee during the hearing.

The Idaho Citizens Coalition is an advocacy group dedicated to reforming Idaho’s marijuana laws, the group says on its website.

Legislators have also expressed concern with the rapid pace in the rush to wrap up business and go at recess again. 

Wintrow said she voted against Senate Bill 1218 because of the process and the lateness with which it was introduced. 

But the bill passed out of committee and then passed the Senate 21-14 later Wednesday.

A day earlier, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she was worried about the hurried pace this week.

“Legislation has been compared to sausage making, but when you are sausage making at 200 mph with no inspectors or quality control steps built in, that is when you can end up with some strange and unsavory items in the sausage,” Rubel said in floor debate Tuesday.

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.

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