State Politics

A year after they fought for recognition, far-right lawmakers’ bills will be heard

The bell outside the Idaho Statehouse.
The bell outside the Idaho Statehouse. Idaho Statesman file

A mini-uprising broke out in the Idaho Legislature in 2017. Some of the House’s most conservative members grew frustrated that many of their proposals never saw the light of day, blocked by House leadership or committee chairs.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, tried to broker peace by assuring the disgruntled members that their bills would get a chance to be heard this year.

“So far, he is keeping his word and allowing it to happen.” said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, one of the founding members of the Idaho Freedom Caucus.

That was especially apparent after Thursday, Zollinger said. Several bills from the House’s more conservative members were successfully introduced that morning, largely in the House State Affairs Committee.

“I am personally going to thank Speaker Bedke as soon as I see him,” Zollinger said.

Many of the topics introduced Thursday will sound familiar to Statehouse regulars.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, says government agencies should be allowed to post required legal notices on their websites rather than in a newspaper.

For generations, newspapers have been the mandated source to view these announcements. Nate told the State Affairs Committee that some communities don’t have newspapers, which means government officials are forced to spend more money publishing notices in a larger newspaper.

For the third year in a row, Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, proposed anti-Sharia law legislation designed to prevent Idaho courts from making decisions based on Islamic or other foreign legal codes – even though there are no known cases in which an Idaho judge has based a ruling on Islamic law. In the prior two sessions, his legislation gained no traction.

Eleven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington — prohibit the use of foreign law in their state courts as of 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, doesn’t want taxpayer dollars used to advocate for a bill’s passage or defeat. Her bill bans state agencies, universities and school districts from hiring lobbyists to influence state lawmakers.

Multiple taxing districts across the state hire lobbyists using public funds to represent their interests while lawmakers meet in Boise during the annual legislative session. Giddings’ bill does not include political subdivisions — meaning cities, counties, water boards and highway commissions would be allowed to hire lobbyists.

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, wants to join fellow Republican-dominated states and convene a constitutional convention, calling for a constitutional amendment to limit federal government power.

Previous efforts to do that have failed to take hold in the Idaho Legislature. However, with Republicans controlling the majority of state legislatures, Congress and the White House, the idea continues to surface. Critics of the movement argue there’s no way to limit a convention to just that one topic, and fear a broader rewriting of the Constitution would take place.

Also on Thursday, the House Health and Welfare Committee agreed to introduce legislation from Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, allowing residents to use oil extracted from cannabis plants in staunchly anti-marijuana Idaho as long as the product is prescribed by a licensed practitioner.

Under the proposed legislation, Idahoans seeking to use the oil for medical purposes for themselves or their minor children would have to apply to the Idaho Board of Pharmacy for a cannabidiol registration card.

Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD oil, comes from cannabis but contains little or no THC. Gov. Butch Otter vetoed legislation in 2015 that would have allowed children with severe forms of epilepsy to use CBD oil. Currently, 18 states allow use of “low THC, high cannabidiol (CBD)” products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell