Disagreement over adjourning legislative session leaves Idaho in uncertain territory
The problem? Idaho Constitution says neither chamber “shall, without the concurrence of the other, adjourn for more than three days.”
Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Idaho is in an unprecedented, uncertain situation with the state’s two legislative chambers at odds over adjournment procedures, according to analysis issued Thursday by the Office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
Late Wednesday night, the Idaho Senate voted to adjourn the longest session in Idaho history for the year. However, the Idaho House of Representatives voted down a motion from Democrats to adjourn sine die, a Latin phrase meaning “without a day” used to indicate the legislative body will not set a time to meet again. Instead, the House voted to go at recess until a date no later than Dec. 31.
The problem is the Idaho Constitution says neither chamber “shall, without the concurrence of the other, adjourn for more than three days.”
In the AG’s analysis, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane wrote that the Senate’s adjournment could be considered invalid, noting one legal interpretation could be that both chambers are considered to be at recess.
“Based upon the House’s lack of concurrence, the Senate’s adjournment sine die may be of limited legal effect,” Kane wrote. “When the House returns, if it does not adjourn sine die, then the Senate will likely have three days in which to return.”
The other problem is that one chamber may not be able to force the other back into session and require it to take legislative action.
“This office is unaware of the mechanism for how either chamber compels the attendance of the other,” Kane wrote.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Idaho Capital Sun the recess “is a crack in the door for the Legislature to react to the unforeseen.”
Essentially, the recess allows the House to call itself back into session without needing Gov. Brad Little to authorize a special session of the Legislature.
Democrats criticized the recess in a Thursday morning press conference, saying the recess is an end run around the Idaho Constitution. The state’s constitution says only a governor may call a special session. In the 2022 election, Idaho voters will be asked whether to approve a proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution that would allow the Legislature to call itself back into session.
Speaking during a Republican press conference Thursday morning, Bedke said calling the House back in session would require some cooperation by the Senate.
“It will do no good for us to call ourselves, just the House in, if there is not some understanding, some acquiescence on the Senate side,” Bedke said. “We are a little bit in uncharted territory here.”
Bedke said he would only call the House back in the case of the unforeseen, not for something mundane. He mentioned another new, large influx of federal stimulus dollars as one possible reason to reconvene.
“As of May 13, I don’t think it’s likely, but you tell me what the circumstances will be in August or September or October and then I will be able to give you a clearer prediction,” Bedke said during the press conference.
Some legislators have also suggested they would want to reconvene once new U.S. Census Bureau data, which will be used in the redistricting process that Idaho goes through every 10 years, is released later this year.
House State Affairs Chairman Brent Crane, R-Nampa, also suggested gas shortages and violence in the Middle East could be reasons House members would push to reconvene.
“Part of the decision by the House to go at recess instead of adjourn sine die was to give ourselves options,” Crane said in an interview Wednesday. “There’s some world events, some national events that have caused us pause and we think that we need to have the option to bring ourselves back into session should we need to.”
In a written statement issued Thursday, the governor applauded the Senate’s decision to adjourn.
“This is the longest legislative session in Idaho history,” Little wrote. “That is not something anyone should aspire to happen. This is Idaho, not Washington, D.C. Our citizens expect legislators to get in, do the work of the people and leave expeditiously. This is what the Idaho Constitution intended.”
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