Here’s a state with big Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate and an all-Republican executive branch. And in this state, every bill is guaranteed a committee hearing and a floor vote. Every last one.
I’m, of course, not talking about Idaho.
It’s North Dakota.
Idaho’s Legislature is an entirely different beast, though its political makeup is much the same. The Idaho Legislature operates more or less as an oligarchy. Major policies are selected or shelved at the whim of an empowered few, usually behind closed doors. If those in charge don’t like your idea, or they want to protect a special interest group’s … special interest, the easiest path to victory is to keep a bill from seeing the light of day.
Consider two examples: For many years, Idahoans have rallied behind the idea of removing the sales tax on groceries. The Legislature voted in 2017 to repeal the tax, but the governor at the time vetoed the bill. Four years later, conservatives can’t even get the idea off the launchpad. Why? Because the chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, Steve Harris, won’t allow a bill to be introduced, even though it’s a concept he voted for four years ago.
Harris won’t say so, but it’s likely that he’s operating under orders from House Speaker Scott Bedke and Majority Leader Mike Moyle. They won’t grant the idea a modicum of daylight.
A Bedke lieutenant is also behind the decision to shelve a bill that would give locally-elected school boards the ability to turn down big labor bosses when they come knocking. Existing state law demands that school boards negotiate with labor unions, even if they’re affiliated with the radical leftist National Education Association. Even if a radically leftist-aligned union takes a page from the Big Labor playbook and misbehaves badly – as the West Ada Education Association did last year by staging a teacher sick out – the school board is still forced by state law to enter into contract negotiations.
Why can’t school boards get a say in whether they sit at the bargaining table with these bad actors? Why does Idaho law give such exclusive privilege to special interests? Heck, even taxpayers aren’t guaranteed an audience with the school board. Some states forbid public collective bargaining, but all that’s being asked is permission for school boards to step away. The forced negotiations persist because Lance Clow, the chairman of the House Education Committee, refuses to give a hearing to a proposal that would empower local school trustees. A majority of Clow’s own committee have taken the unusual step of signing a letter insisting on hearing the legislation. And yet Clow won’t budge.
It’s never been unusual that legislation is denied hearings by people with a title and a lot of power, whether it’s in Idaho, other states, or Congress. There is some irony in the fact that legislators, who last year were complaining about the governor operating unilaterally, are now okay with their own brand of unilateralism.
If legislation is good and proper, or if existing laws make sense, the Legislature should withstand public scrutiny and open debate in our republican form of government. It’s increasingly difficult to stomach a government where the people at the top claim to be conservative but won’t allow the bare mention of a conservative proposal. Idaho doesn’t have to be North Dakota, but it shouldn’t operate like an oligarchy or a dictatorship either.
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