House-Senate spat kills Idaho reform bill

Two bills to revoke politician privileges die in the Senate.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWMarch 18, 2014 

Legislation to remove Idaho lawmakers' special exemption from having their wages garnished for state court judgments has fallen victim to late-session hostilities between the House and Senate.

House Bill 510 never received a Senate committee hearing.

It is the second time bills to remove special privileges for lawmakers have failed this year. The other bill would have removed lawmakers' exemption from concealed gun permit requirements.

The House approved both bills, but they died in the same Senate committee.

"Sure sounds like a pattern, doesn't it?" asked freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, sponsor of the garnishment bill.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, has refused to schedule a hearing on HB 510 until a House committee sets a hearing on his bill on firefighters' occupational cancers.

But McKenzie's Senate-passed bill isn't getting a hearing in the House Commerce Committee, said Chairman Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.

Rep. Hartgen is adamant that the firefighter bill — SB 1373a — is not good public policy. It would recognize certain cancers linked to breathing hazardous substances common in burning buildings as occupational diseases under Idaho's workers compensation system.

Hartgen said he believes the bill would give professional firefighters "another benefit stream" that could be costly and could open the door to similar requests from part-time firefighters and other first-responders.

"I know it's dangerous work — they do put their lives on the line," he said. "But we compensate them well, they have excellent retirement benefits, they often have second jobs and no one forces you to become a fireman. … I just think on the basis of fairness and potential cost, that this is a bill that needs more work."

'PLAYING POLITICS'

McKenzie said the wage-garnishment bill "is the one that is still in my committee. It's the means that I have to express my frustration" with Hartgen.

Hartgen said it's "unfortunate that we are playing politics with these different bills. I would urge the good senator to hear the bill on its own merits."

McKenzie said the garnishment bill is "an important issue." If it doesn't pass this year, he expects it will return next year. "I am frustrated by the process," he said.

But he said the firefighter cancer bill is "just as important if not more important."

"It's people's lives that are being affected by cancer, because of the job that they do," McKenzie said.

The firefighters bill passed the Senate last week on a 28-7 vote.

The garnishment bill passed the House Feb. 26 on a 65-2 vote.

One of the two "no" votes came from Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, who later asked the House to convene an ethics investigation into her vote because she failed to reveal a conflict of interest as required by House rules.

McMillan faces numerous court judgments, including at least one in which garnishment of her legislative wages was blocked by the special exemption.

HB 514, the earlier bill to remove Idaho lawmakers' exemption from the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed gun, passed the House Feb. 27 on a 62-7 vote; it died on a 6-2 vote in McKenzie's committee, with McKenzie among the opponents.

MORE IS BETTER?

He said gun rights in general should be broadened, not narrowed: "We should expand the ability of citizens to carry, rather than shortening that list."

The House passed the bill after the special exemption made news when former Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, had his concealed weapon permit revoked by the county sheriff for not revealing an attempted rape conviction from the 1970s. He resigned in January; but as long as he remained a legislator, Patterson was able to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

The exemption from garnisheeing wages has been on the books in Idaho since 1939. Morse called the demise of his bill "an attempt to thwart reform."

"I think there's overwhelming support for changes, among the voters, to revoke privileges that politicians have granted themselves," Morse said. "We can make these changes readily at the state level, if individuals like Sen. McKenzie don't block it."

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