The Idaho Legislature ground to a dead halt Thursday, one day shy of its scheduled adjournment, as a group of defiant, mostly freshman House Republicans repeatedly invoked random procedural objections to slow business to a crawl.
The House managed to take up and pass just three of the dozens of bills still on its calendar Thursday amid the slowdown. It gave up entirely late Thursday afternoon after a three-hour break, during which the majority Republicans met and tried unsuccessfully to resolve their differences.
“We’re going to come back tomorrow and try it again,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said after the House adjourned for the day. “Obviously, we’ll be here Monday.”
The objections behind the slowdown are not related to specific bills but rather to the overall pace of legislation moving through the House as the Legislature rushes to adjournment. The bills on Thursday’s House calendar were mostly routine appropriations.
Typically, to expedite business, House members give unanimous consent to waive reading a bill in its entirety prior to debating and voting on it. The objection of a single member, however, means the bill must be read in full.
Towards the end of a session, when potentially dozens of bills are moving through both the House and Senate on any given day, the delay can measured not in hours, but days.
The freshmen group, with a couple of second-term lawmakers, are self-styled populists from the farthest right wing of the Republican caucus, and its members have objected repeatedly this session to protest what they decry as a “business-as-usual” culture in the House, including rapid-fire passage of complex but otherwise mundane bills.
Among the 60-odd bills remaining, most are routine, but two are major initiatives on transportation funding and taxes. Lawmakers have called the road bills essential and vowed not to adjourn without passing them.
House Democrats used Thursday’s delay to call out dysfunction in the Republican caucus. House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, noted in a statement the $30,000-per-day cost of extending the session and decried a “lack of discipline” in the House majority.
The Senate, in contrast, is all but finished with its calendar, waiting only on a handful of remaining House bills including, possibly, transportation and tax legislation.
“We’ve got to cowboy up here, and that’s a concept that means you do what it takes to finish the job,” Bedke said. “And we have unfinished business in a couple of major areas.”