Joint budget committee co-chairman taking leave of absence from Legislature

Sen. Steve Bair will have a substitute take his place when 2022 session begins

By: - November 30, 2021 5:35 pm
Sen. Jeff Agenbroad

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, listens to debate at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, is taking a leave of absence from the Idaho Legislature that will require leadership changes for the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. 

Bair, who serves as co-chairman of JFAC, is taking leave to deal with family issues, Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, announced at the outset of Tuesday’s Legislative Council meeting at the Idaho State Capitol. 

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, has been appointed to serve as co-chairman of JFAC while Bair is absent, Winder announced. Agenbroad, a banker and businessman, is in his third term in the Legislature. 

Steve Bair
Idaho Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, is in his eighth term. (Courtesy of the Idaho Legislature)

“Idaho is a state well-known for its dedication to fiscal responsibility and opportunity for economic prosperity,” Agenbroad said in a written statement Tuesday. “As the new chair of the Idaho State Senate Finance Committee, I am humbled to continue that tradition and ensure that Idahoans’ tax dollars are used conservatively and responsibly.”

Agenbroad had previously served as a vice chairman of JFAC, so naming him chairman was a natural fit.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, was also named a vice chairman on Tuesday to fill the vacancy created by Agenbroad’s promotion to co-chairman. Crabtree is in his third legislative term and has served on JFAC in each term he held office.

“This is a position I do not take lightly,” Crabtree said in a written statement. “As a member of JFAC, and in this new leadership role, I will remain focused on (the) allocating of our state funds based on need, and requiring measurable outcomes for each dollar spent. It is never an easy task to keep government small while providing services to our constituents, but I am committed to doing just that.”

As part of the leadership changes, Agenbroad will give up his seat on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and Crabtree will leave his role as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, the senators said. That will leave an opening for vice chairperson of the Senate Education Committee still to be filled before the 2022 session begins.

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JFAC is one of the Legislature’s most active, powerful and largest committees. It includes 10 members of both the Idaho Senate and the Idaho House of Representatives and meets first thing each morning to write each component of the state’s $4.2 billion general fund budget.

In an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun, Winder said Bair is OK but is navigating a serious family issue. 

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where the state’s budget is crafted, is among the most powerful committees of the Idaho Legislature. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Bair, a Republican from Blackfoot, is serving his eighth term in the Idaho Senate. He was appointed chairman of JFAC ahead of the 2019 legislative session. 

Bair is not a member of the Legislative Council and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. He could not be reached for comment.

Winder said he is unsure how long Bair’s absence will last. Former Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, will serve as a substitute legislator in Bair’s place when the 2022 session begins Jan. 10. 

VanOrden, who also represented Bingham County in eastern Idaho, is the former chairwoman of the House Education Committee and served three terms in the Idaho House of Representatives until she was defeated in the 2018 GOP primary.

VanOrden is the co-owner of her family’s farm, where they grow potatoes and wheat. She is also a commissioner for the Idaho Potato Commission. 

This isn’t the only recent change in the Idaho Senate heading into the new session. Last week, Little appointed Boise State University professor Carrie Semmelroth to fill the Senate seat that was vacated in District 17 after former Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise, moved to a different district. 

There is expected to be a significant shakeup in Legislature’s ranks following the 2022 legislative session. All 105 seats in the Legislature will be up for election in 2022. Additionally, Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission redrew each of the boundaries of the state’s 35 legislative districts, which has placed several incumbents together in newly created districts. That will force legislators to decide whether to run against each other, seek a different office or step aside during the 2022 elections. On top of that, several incumbents will leave the Legislature in 2022 to seek higher office, including Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

The 2022 primary elections are scheduled for May 17, with the winner of each party’s primary advancing to the Nov. 8, 2022, general election. 

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Idaho’s next legislative session begins in January

Even though the 2021 legislative session just adjourned for the year Nov. 17, the Idaho State Capitol won’t be quiet for long. 

The 2022 legislative session begins Jan. 10 with Little’s State of the State address. 

On Jan 11, all legislators will be asked to participate in respectful workplace training, Winder said Tuesday. 

“I would ask that all of you attend,” Winder told members of the Legislative Council. “I think this is very important — I wouldn’t call it training, let’s call it updating of a respectful workplace.”

Winder said one of the objectives during the 2022 session will be to update the Legislature’s written respectful workplace policy.

“So that is something we are going to have to work on during the upcoming session,” Winder said during Tuesday’s meeting.

During the 2021 session, the Idaho House of Representatives and the House’s Ethics on Policy Committee addressed two ethics complaints.

During the first, the ethics committee voted in April to censure former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, and recommended the Idaho House of Representatives suspend him for the remainder of his term for conduct unbecoming a legislator after a 19-year-old intern accused him of raping her. Von Ehlinger maintained his innocence, said sexual contact was consensual but he resigned in April before the House voted on whether to suspend him. The intern, commonly referred to as Jane Doe, testified during the ethics hearing that von Ehlinger held her down and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She said it was not consensual and that she told von Ehlinger “no.”

The Idaho Capital Sun does not identify alleged victims of rape or sexual assualt. 

The second ethics complaint was addressed Nov. 15, when the Idaho House voted 49-19 to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and remove her from one of her three legislative committees for conduct unbecoming of a legislator after Giddings posted a blog that identified and included a photo of the 19-year-old legislative intern who accused von Ehlinger of rape. 

Giddings said she was trying to share both sides of the story. She is running for lieutenant governor in 2022. 

Von Ehlinger was arrested and charged in October and has pleaded not guilty to felony rape and forcible pentration charges. Von Ehlinger is awaiting a jury trial in Ada County in April. 

On Tuesday, the Legislative Council did not discuss a detailed 2022 calendar or vote on setting a target date to adjourn. The 2021 session was the longest session in history at 311 days. That total included the extended recess legislators took from May 13 to Nov. 15. 

Generally, legislative sessions run for 75-90 days, from early January until late March or early April.

 

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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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