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Legislative process harmed by lies, unelected 'legislators' casting votes

Legislative process harmed by lies, unelected 'legislators' casting votes

Wayne Hoffman
April 6, 2010
Wayne Hoffman
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April 6, 2010

The Idaho Legislature is not Congress. Congress' reputation is worsening as the years go by. The recent passage of the thousands of pages of Constitution-subverting "healthcare" legislation -- which was read by no one ahead of time -- is sadly a symptom of a greater illness for what used to be "the finest deliberative body" in human history. Congress is simply out of control.

We're lucky in Idaho to have a relatively straight-forward legislative process that is free of a lot of the shenanigans that take place in the nation's Capitol. But there are reasons to worry about the Idaho Legislature.

State lawmakers continue to sidestep the constitution and then lie about it afterwards. I'd like to be more elegant in my description but it is the truth. The state constitution requires the full and complete reading of legislation on the floor of the House and Senate. But that is inconvenient and takes time. So lawmakers merely ask the unanimous agreement of their peers that the bill's constitutionally required reading be set aside. Then, lawmakers agree that the official journal of the day's proceedings should say that the bills were read in full, as required by law, even though that's not what happened. In other words, lawmakers evade the state constitution and then cover it up. If you read the journals -- the official record of the proceedings of the House and Senate -- they say bills were read in full, as required by the state constitution. It didn't really happen, though. If lawmakers find the requirements of the state constitution too problematic to follow, they should ask voters to amend the constitution. Ignoring the state's constitution diminishes the value of the document and the rule of law.

Additionally, state lawmakers refuse to give up the practice of allowing unelected substitutes to indefinitely serve and vote in the House and Senate. Perhaps there is some legitimacy to having a substitute temporarily fill in for a legislator who, because of an emergency, must be absent for a few days while the session is underway. But it's gotten out of hand. Today, a substitute -- who has never stood for election -- is granted full voting rights while the elected lawmaker is gone over the course of two or three full legislative sessions. In the last session, one substitute was handed the gavel and presided over the state Senate, having never secured a single vote to validate his presence either on the floor of the Senate or behind the rostrum. On another occasion, the elected legislator sat in the gallery while his unelected substitute cast votes on the Senate floor. If a lawmaker truly can't serve for an extended period, that person should resign.

Between the state Legislature and Congress, there is no comparison. Our process is superior. But I don't see how lawmakers can look Idahoans in the eye and tell them they are somehow served by allowing having unelected Idahoans represent them in the Legislature. Nor can I understand how any one is served by ignoring the state constitution and then lying about it.

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