The strained relationship between some lawmakers and the attorney general is no longer an open secret, and the dispute could possibly reshape how the state handles its legal counsel.
Until recently, lawmakers’ frustrations with Wasden generally had been given public voice by only the Legislature’s most conservative members. Last month, for example, Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, introduced a bill that would kick Wasden off of the Idaho Land Board through a constitutional amendment.
But Wasden’s decision to deny a second shipment of spent fuel rods to Idaho National Laboratory — after the U.S. Department of Energy missed state cleanup deadlines — has increased the tension and broadened it to corners of the Legislature that previously had remained quiet.
Last week, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, introduced a resolution calling on Wasden to issue a waiver and allow in a spent fuel shipment. The resolution passed out of committee and is headed to the House floor.
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And Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, pulled the Idaho Attorney General Office’s budget off the schedule last week, leaving it in limbo as the session winds down. He says the budget is going to come back soon, and he doesn’t anticipate the Legislature will make any big changes this year.
Davis said unresolved issues with parts of the budget dealing with a task force on Internet sex crimes against children and a few hikes were behind pulling the budget. But Davis also said he was “disappointed” with the AG and his office over decisions concerning the spent fuel shipments.
“That is an issue that is critical not just to my community. … These are issues of national security,” he said. “It’s not like the first shipment the attorney general turned away, where another lab could step forward and do (the research)...”
“But this next shipment wasn’t about the Idaho National Laboratory and competition with another lab. This is something that, as I understand, only Idaho can do. That’s very troubling to me.”
The AG’s office said Davis’ complaint was new to them. “The senator has not taken the time to make contact with our office and discuss these concerns,” spokesman Todd Dvorak said.
At the same time, Davis raised the prospect of a sweeping change that would dramatically reduce the power of the attorney general: reversing the 20-year-old policy of a consolidated Attorney General’s Office.
The threat of undoing consolidation is a dagger pointed at the budget, power and prestige of the attorney general. If it were pursued, it would amount to a total restructuring of that office.
The office was consolidated in 1995 under Attorney General Alan Lance. Before that, state agencies were generally represented by their own hired counsel.