Idaho lawmakers are looking to give state offices more choices in responding to shrinking spending by closing offices due to furloughs. A proposal approved by a Senate committee Monday would allow offices to close due to mandatory unpaid days off for workers.

Furloughs for state workers has been one way state agencies have met mid-year spending reductions ordered by the governor and the Idaho Legislature. “With the furlough policy that was implemented and contemplated for the future, not all the savings could be realized,” House Assistant Minority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “If everyone got furloughed on a Friday, then technically the office would need to stay open.” State law currently says that offices must be open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for holidays. “There was this little hiccup and this little catch in the law,” Bedke said. The change Bedke is backing would allow offices to close due to furloughs. The Department of Health and Welfare, one of the largest agencies in terms of state spending, has recently closed its offices every other Friday. A DHW spokeswoman said it met the state requirement by keeping the office of DHW director Dick Armstrong open on Fridays.

The change in state law came in part from a suggestion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who both tracks state laws and is trying to meet budget reductions through furloughs. “The attorney general highlighted that this was a problem for him to be able to enforce a furlough policy,” said Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls.

The House approved the flexibility to close state offices 69-1 on March 2. Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, voted against the proposal. The proposal now faces a full Senate vote. The text of the legislation is available here.

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