At a critical time when legislative bills are sliced, diced and put back together, many Idahoans are left in the dark as to what their state lawmakers are doing.
Though Idaho has taken huge steps forward in the past few years in expanding access to legislative meetings through audio and video streaming, transparency continues to lag because legislators can cast some votes without the fear of having to answer for their actions, which is an oddity in the normally open legislative process.
These votes usually come in the amending order of the Idaho House and Senate, where some bills go for slight tweaks or massive overhauls. When lawmakers work within
these amending orders, the floor clerks observe and record voice votes on amendments to legislation, but they don’t log lawmaker names or tallies on specific issues.
Curious government watchdogs don’t receive any help from the cameras, either.
While lawmakers amend bills, the technicians at Idaho Public Television, who operate the legislative live streams, have orders to leave the cameras trained front and center on the rostrums in the respective chambers to prevent viewers from knowing who voted for what.
Standing in the legislative balconies in the House and Senate might serve as the only manner in which an observer can log who supports or votes against certain amendments. Chamber rules, though, prevent observers from recording the legislative proceedings.
The order to leave the cameras on the respective rostrums came from, according to Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz, House and Senate leadership. Youtz told IdahoReporter.com that lawmakers expect “a degree of anonymity” while they makes changes to bills and that his office, which oversees the video and audio streams, wants to respect the “traditions and protocols” of the Idaho House and Senate.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, defended the occasional duck behind the curtain to IdahoReporter.com this week. Moyle sees the anonymity necessary to defend legislators against misunderstandings about legislative processes.
“When they put that stuff together, they could see who is voting how,” Moyle said. “It’s just that a vote to amend the bill is different than a vote on the bill.”
The majority leader fears that efforts to amend a “bad bill” could be misconstrued by political opponents as support for that same legislation. “The perception would be that they voted for that bill,” he said. “Well, they didn’t; they were trying to fix it.”
Another member of his caucus, Rep. Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens, said he sees that as a problem for Idahoans. “In the interest of transparency and our constituents, they should know what we are doing,” he said.
Barbieri, in his second legislative term, is authoring legislation to reform Idaho’s amendment process, but won’t address the transparency issue in his upcoming measure.