We’re “singing of Idaho” in the Idaho Legislature these days, singing, and oh so proudly, too.
The high ceilings and domes and marbled walls of the Idaho Statehouse make a fine venue for these performances. Members of the University of Idaho Vandaleers Concert Choir discovered last Wednesday, when they spent part of their spring break giving a performance in the Capitol Rotunda. They visited the House floor earlier in the day, offering a rousing rendition of “Here We Have Idaho,” the official state song.
Lawmakers had their cameras out, recording the event. They gave the group a standing ovation at the end.
“Thank you, that sounded beautiful,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “And thanks to the good lady from District 5 (Rep. Caroline Troy) for making the arrangements. It’s these extra touches that make this a special place to work.”
Ah, yes, the extra touches. They’ve been on display for the better part of a week now, as the majority party elbows the minority aside in its drive to adjourn the session before Good Friday.
Wednesday morning, for example, House Democrats felt the heavy hands of the majority when their effort to pull a minimum-wage-hike bill out of committee was swatted down on a 56-14 party-line vote.
Senate Dems had a similar experience Monday, when their attempt to call a Medicaid expansion bill to the Senate floor was killed, also along party lines.
The minimum-wage legislation would raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.25 per hour by July 2017. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, noted that House and Senate Republicans recently approved a measure prohibiting local governments from establishing a minimum wage higher than that set in state code.
“This body has decided that only as a state and a Legislature can we make a change to the minimum wage,” he said. Consequently, “to not allow a discussion of this is an error.”
In arguing against the call, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, relied on the same arguments Senate Republicans used to defeat Monday’s Medicaid proposal.
“We have a process here, a committee process,” Moyle said. “We need to protect that process. If we start allowing motions like this, we’ll have problems down the road. What we have today has worked for a long time in protecting us and our constituents.”
The problem, Rusche said, is the process only works for the majority. If you’re a Democrat — or a rogue Republican whose views are contrary to leadership’s — committee chairmen may not introduce your bill even if it has merit. As a result, they’re introduced as personal bills and Bedke assigns them to the House Ways and Means Committee, where they never again see the light of day.
There are currently 26 bills in Ways and Means; 19 of them have Democratic sponsors.
If legislation isn’t advancing, the first place one should look is to the bill sponsors and the measure itself. Are the sponsors working the bill? Are they doing all they should to garner support? Is the issue itself something that merits consideration?
That said, there is zero doubt that at least some of the Ways and Means bills would have gotten hearings if they’d had Republican sponsors.
Forced to play with loaded dice, House Democrats resorted to desperation tactics to try to have their concerns heard.
Eight Democrats unexpectedly joined forces with conservative Republicans to kill the Commission on the Arts budget on a 36-33 vote. That means the Legislature’s joint budget committee has to write a new budget.
Since the session can’t adjourn until all budgets are approved, Democrats sent a message that they can gum up the works.
That’s a sharp departure from past practices, in which Democrats have reliably supported most budgets. That allows more than a dozen conservative Republicans the freedom to vote against appropriation bills without worrying it will delay the session.
Hypothetically, House Democrats could have killed eight budgets so far this session by using this tactic — including the attorney general’s 2017 appropriation.
What’s most telling was the Republican reaction to the move. There was no sense of sympathy, no consideration that if 20 percent of the elected representatives in Idaho are being frustrated to such an extent, then maybe Rusche is right and too many important things aren’t being heard.
There was no sense that the voice of the minority was one of those “extra touches” that makes the Legislature such a special place.
Here we have Idaho.