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Hill kills bill to end special legislative pension perk

Hill kills bill to end special legislative pension perk

Dustin Hurst
March 6, 2015
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March 6, 2015

A bill to end a special legislative pension perk is dead after being sidelined by Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.

Hill assigned the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday, a sign it’s dead for the year, a lawmaker told IdahoReporter.com.

“DOA,” the source, who didn't give permission to be identified, wrote in an email.

Hill didn’t respond Thursday to a text message or an email asking for comment on the assignment.

As the leader of the Senate, Hill wields the power to assign bills where he sees fit. The bill to end legislative pension spiking, which helps a certain few lawmakers add tens of thousands of dollars a year to their taxpayer-funded pensions, should have landed in the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

The House Commerce and Human Resources Committee handled the bill during hearings in that legislative chamber.

Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, told IdahoReporter.com last month he’d be inclined to support the bill and would likely give it a hearing.

Tippets said Thursday Senate leadership did inform him of the redirection. He said the leaders felt the bill is a policy issue, and not an insurance or human resources matter, best handled by the State Affairs Committee.

The chairman declined to say if he agreed with Hill’s decision to reroute the bill, but only affirmed the pro tem’s power to direct legislation.

“I don’t question his authority to do that,” Tippets said in a phone interview.

It’s up to Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, to decide if the measure receives a hearing. McKenzie didn’t return a phone message left for him Thursday.

After winning unanimous support in the House panel, the bill survived a furious challenge on the floor of that body Wednesday. After lengthy debate, representatives passed it, only to have Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, motion to reconsider it later that day.

Though Vander Woude prevailed in the move to reopen debate, legislators approved the plan a second time Wednesday on a similar vote margin. The entire Republican House leadership team voted to kill the measure.

Much of the floor discussion centered on the bill’s constitutionality. Several legislators, including Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Vander Woude, said the bill is unconstitutional because the Idaho Constitution contains language barring legislators from setting their own rates of compensation.

A legal analysis did little to clear up confusion. Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane wrote that lawmakers likely hold the power to remove the special pension perk, but that the issue is murky.

At least two politicians have set themselves up to benefit thanks to the pension loophole. Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who blocked a prior iteration of the measure when he served as House speaker, will added tens of thousands of dollars to his pension if he remains in his post for at least 42 months.

The  same goes for former Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, who just secured a gubernatorial appointment to a high-paying state job. If he stays in his position for at least for 42 months, Werk could add at least $20,000 a year to his taxpayer-backed pension.

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