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Uncertainty surrounds appointment of substitute legislators

Uncertainty surrounds appointment of substitute legislators

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
February 17, 2014
[post_thumbnail]Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, Senate president pro tempore, says legislative leadership generally relies on the word on a legislator that a substitute legislator meets the qualifications to serve.

According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, both state law and the Idaho Constitution address the issue of selecting substitute legislators when elected Senate and House members are not able to fulfill their duties.

But with a substitute member of the Idaho House recently identified as being unqualified after he had already completed his term of service, the precise means by which a substitute’s qualifications are verified remain uncertain.

“I suspect Rep. Henderson is right,” said Miren Artiach, a deputy in the secretary of state’s office. IdahoReporter.com spoke with Artiach after Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, acknowledged on Feb. 11 that an individual selected to fill in for him in the House ended up not meeting the qualifications for that task because he lives outside the district.

“I honestly don’t think anybody around here (the Capitol) checks that stuff,” said Henderson, and he is apparently correct.

“These details are probably not being monitored carefully enough,” Artiach said.

When Idaho’s 2014 legislative session began in January, Henderson was unable to fulfill his duties for the first few weeks of the session because of an injury he sustained last summer. In response to the dilemma, John Chambers, a resident of Hauser Lake, was sworn in to fulfill Henderson’s duties for the first few weeks of the legislation session.

Henderson told IdahoReporter.com that Chambers’ appointment was “a big mistake” because Chambers, as it turns out, does not live in Henderson’s legislative district.

According to Idaho statute 67-416, each elected member of the Legislature must fill out a form and designate three to seven prospective substitutes who can be called upon to serve. Artiach says that while the statute was adopted in 1961, concern for the details of substitute legislative appointments has waned over the years.

“During World War II, and even throughout the Cold War, legislators seemed to be more mindful of the fact that they could be called away by a national emergency,” Artiach explained, adding, that today some legislators don’t even bother filling out the form. Even if there is a form on file there is no obligation to choose a person listed on their form in the event of an emergency. Henderson has a substitute list on file but Chambers is not one of the individuals he has listed.

Artiach said that substitute legislators must meet all the same requirements to which elected legislators are held: They must be at least 21 years of age, be a United States citizen and must have lived in the legislative district for at least one year.

But who is supposed to verify that a substitute legislator is qualified to fulfill the role before being assigned to the task?

“I don’t see it as a function of the governor and his staff to verify these things and I don’t believe it is our department’s role either,” Artiach said. “When the governor files a certificate of appointment of a temporary legislator he is merely creating a document of fact, just as our department is doing.”

Artiach said “just this morning the governor's staff brought us a certificate of an appointment of a temporary legislator, and it was the first time they asked us to verify that the replacement legislator was qualified. But constitutionally speaking, it falls to the legislative leaders to verify these things.”

At least one legislative leader sees the matter a bit differently.

“Generally, we rely on the senator’s representation that his or her substitute meets the necessary qualifications, including living within the district,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “If there were any apparent reason to question the qualifications, we would research it further.”

Hill also raised an important point in the procedural process of a substitute legislative appointment. “Remember, the request for the appointment for the substitute goes to the governor, not to me.” He said, “A copy is sent to me, but I don’t make the appointment or approve the appointment.”

Following Henderson’s disclosure, IdahoReporter.com spoke with Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, asking how residency requirements are verified before fill-in legislators are sworn in. “That’s a good question, but I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I think this is a problem we’re just now finding out about from the Kootenai County officials.” Henderson and Chambers both live in Kootenai County where election officials determined that Chambers’ residence is outside of Henderson’s legislative district.

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