Reconvening Idaho Legislature in November cost taxpayers more than $46,000

Since the Legislature’s first recess in April, the total cost exceeds $558,000 

By: - January 5, 2022 4:45 am
Idaho State Capitol building in Boise.

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

By returning to session for three days in November at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, the Idaho Legislature has cost Idaho taxpayers more than $46,000, according to public records obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun.

The Idaho Legislature reconvened Nov. 15-17 to consider a response to COVID-19 requirements from employers and President Joe Biden. Legislators didn’t pass any new laws while they were in session, but the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution pushing back against Biden’s vaccine rules. 

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For the effort, taxpayers paid $46,592.78 in legislators’ per diem and travel expenses, pay for staffers associated with the session and increased security at the Statehouse, according to records released to the Sun by the Legislative Services Office. The largest chunk of the expense, $36,033, was for legislators’ per diem over the three days in November. 

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Sun in November the House was obligated to come back into session no later than Dec. 31 because of both House Resolution 4 — which authorized the recess and a return to session no later than Dec. 31 and cut off expenses during the recess while legislators were not at the Capitol — and the necessity to act on the ethics committee’s recommendation to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird. The committee in August recommended censuring Giddings for linking to a blog that identified by name and included the photo of a 19-year-old legislative intern who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, of raping her. (Von Ehlinger has maintained his innocence and is awaiting a jury trial on criminal charges.)  

The House ultimately did vote 49-19 to censure Giddings and remove her from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, one of three committee assignments Giddings held. 

Due to the resolution and the ethics committee’s report, Bedke said the House was required to reconvene.  

“We came back, we took care of the ethics matter decisively, and we took an attempt to set some policy with regard to the COVID situation,” Bedke said in an interview. 

Democrats agreed with the need to address the ethics complaint. But Democrats generally opposed the bills Republicans pushed in November related to COVID-19 response. 

Because legislators didn’t pass any laws and only adopted a nonbinding resolution in November, Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the taxpayers would be left on the hook to pay for what she essentially described as a letter to Biden opposing vaccine mandates. 

“That’s a pricey postage stamp for a letter,” Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, tweeted shortly after legislators adjourned. “Next time send an e-mail” 

For the 2021 session, the cost to taxpayers since the Legislature took its first recess on April 6 — typically about the time when legislators would adjourn for the year sine die — is $558,470.92.

That total includes:

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How do the latest expenses for reconvening the legislative session break down?

From the $46,592.78 total, expenses breakdown as follows:

  • $36,033 for per-diem payments to legislators. No legislators returned or declined their allotted per diem during this time, Legislative Services Office officials said. 
  • $13,392.08 for travel expenses legislators submitted for reimbursement, as of Dec. 26, 2021.
  • $8,951.97 for legislative session staff, excluding year-round staff that works regardless of whether the Legislature is in session. 
  • $1,248.73 for additional security costs paid to CBI Security Services, a private security company that provides Capitol Mall Security officers in Idaho. CBI Security Services formed in Salt Lake City and also provides security services in Utah and Arizona, according to its website. 

The Idaho Capital Sun did not request expenses for utility bills at the Statehouse during that period or for payroll for any year-round staffers or state agency employees, because the Idaho State Capitol is open and staffed year round, regardless of whether the Legislature is in session. 

Legislators also earned an annual base salary in 2021 of $18,691, which is not affected by the length of a legislative session. 

As legislative leaders, Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, earn an extra $5,000 per year. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, earn an extra $2,000 per year.

Legislators whose primary residence is more than 50 miles from the Capitol receive $139 in per-diem payments for each day they are in session, while legislators who live within 50 miles receive $71 per day in session. Any legislator who lives more than 50 miles from the Capitol are also eligible to be reimbursed for travel expenses for one weekly round trip between their home and Boise. 

The 2021 session was the longest in history, at 311 days including days at recess. That smashed the old record of 118 days set in 2003. However, legislators did not earn per-diem payments during the recess that began May 13 and lasted until they reconvened Nov. 15 because House Resolution 4 cut those payments off. 

 

2022 legislative session kicks off next week

The Statehouse hallways won’t be quiet for long. The 2022 legislative session kicks off Monday with Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State address.

Generally speaking, Idaho’s legislative sessions last 75 to 85 days, although there is no legal deadline for adjournment. Conventional wisdom holds that sessions in even numbered years, such as 2022, are shorter because elected officials want to wrap up their business and return home to campaign ahead of the primary elections, which are scheduled for May 17.

 

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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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