Idaho Legislature: Hardly an “arena of ideas”

Idaho Legislature: Hardly an “arena of ideas”

by
Wayne Hoffman
March 11, 2016
Wayne Hoffman
Author Image
March 11, 2016

In 2014, House Speaker Scott Bedke told a Boise audience that the Legislature is “an arena of ideas.” Said Bedke, quoted in the Spokesman Review, “So if you bring an idea, then with very few exceptions … those ideas need to be heard, and then vote up or down on ‘em. And then if you lose, then bring a better idea next time. It’s not the end of the world. We’ve got to start this public dialogue on some of these issues.”

That’s all noble sounding, but nearly non-existent in the Legislature of 2016. Today, the Capitol is an arena of ideas, alright, but just some ideas — someone’s version of the correct ideas. The list of, shall we say, incorrect bills quietly being denied hearings grows long. That includes conservative-backed legislation that would:

  • Provide a free-market approach to health care for low income people.
  • Shutter the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange.
  • Start extricating the state from the ill-conceived Common Core education standards testing.
  • Prevent public officials from accepting lavish gifts.
  • Remove the sales tax on groceries.
  • Expand school choice.

Liberal legislation is also being blocked. Among left-like ideas that are being discussed include a minimum wage increase, special interest tax breaks, and higher education loan-assistance programs.

A proposal from Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, offers to break the logjam. Rubel’s proposal would allow a hearing on any measure that has at least 10 co-sponsors. Her plan doesn’t mean the legislation would be guaranteed to move to the House floor; rather, it means the legislation wouldn’t be locked away in a committee chairman’s drawer, as is now the case.

Rubel’s proposal has a lengthy list of sponsors from the Left and the Right. Yet, that proposal is also being denied a hearing; it’s trapped in the House Ways and Means Committee, the Idaho Legislature’s legislative equivalent of the Hotel California.

In years past, I admit having delighted in a committee chairman’s unilateral ability to kill what I believed to be a rotten piece of legislation. Measures to raise a tax or impose a new regulation have gone quietly into the night without as much as a whimper or a word about it in the local newspaper. That’s been great. It’s also been wrong.

It makes better sense to let legislation have its day in the sun. The arguments against awful public policies like Medicaid expansion, minimum wage increases, and so-called “Add the Words” government regulations are so solid, one need not worry about what might happen once presented to a legislative panel. And if there is worry, the issue isn’t with the policies but with the politicians considering them.

Having a hearing allows proponents and opponents a chance to say why a policy makes sense or why it doesn’t. A hearing also allows the opportunity to take an idea, make it better, and move it along. Had lawmakers actually held a hearing on permitless concealed carry when it was originally presented, the concerns about the proposal would have been aired years ago, allowing the policy to advance. Instead, lawmakers kept the issue bottled up and are only now taking up the issue up.

The Legislature really should be an “arena of ideas.” The fact that it’s not, and is less so with each passing year, is a tragedy. It is a great disservice to Idahoans who elect people to serve in a citizen Legislature and to represent our views in Boise.

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