State Politics

Governor vetoes 1 bill, frets about others – and lawmakers can now leave Boise

An emotional Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, left, and Sen. Marv Hegedorn, R-Meridian, say their farewells as the Senate adjourns. Both will not be returning next year – and both are candidates for lieutenant governor.
An emotional Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, left, and Sen. Marv Hegedorn, R-Meridian, say their farewells as the Senate adjourns. Both will not be returning next year – and both are candidates for lieutenant governor.

Gov. Butch Otter issued one veto Wednesday but let two other widely watched bills become law without his signature, clearing the way that evening for Idaho lawmakers to leave Boise for the year.

The 2018 session lasted 80 days. The Legislature tends to run short in election years so lawmakers can leave to campaign.

All 105 state lawmakers are up for re-election this year. Along with a couple of retirements, some also are seeking other offices this spring, and Wednesday evening included farewells to those who knew they would not return for the 2019 session.

“It’s very bittersweet,” retiring Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, told the Senate.

Keough, the longest-serving female senator in Idaho state history, has served 11 terms – 22 years. “Senators, I know that you will each work hard to help keep our Senate traditions of disagreeing agreeably, honoring the institution of the Legislature, honoring the institution of the separation between the House and the Senate, and the separations between our branches of government.”

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is among this spring’s candidates for lieutenant governor. “I try to act all tough and funny, like I’m some big tough guy ... but I am pretty soft on the inside,” he told his peers, noting that he hoped he or fellow candidate Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, would return in that new role.

“Good luck in your elections and be careful,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said in his closing remarks one chamber over.

The House adjourned at 5:19 p.m. The Senate followed at 5:56 p.m.

Lawmakers largely finished their work last week, but they stayed in Boise to see whether Otter would veto any bills, part of a revised adjournment process following a lawsuit over an Otter veto last year.

Otter and legislative leaders have one final item on their calendars: A 1 p.m. Thursday news conference to discuss the session.

0328 sine die 03
Lt. Gov. Brad Little adjourns the Idaho Senate for the final time, as his career as lieutenant governor comes to a close. Little is running for governor. The Idaho Legislature adjourned late Wednesday afternoon. Katherine Jones

The governor made a number of decisions on legislation Wednesday. Lawmakers and political observers paid particular attention to three bills:

▪  Otter allowed a heavily debated overhaul of Idaho’s trespassing codes to become law without his signature, describing it as badly needed but with several serious problems.

The bill updates three different sections of Idaho trespass law. It revises private property notice requirements and increases trespassing penalties. Its provisions will take effect on July 1.

“The myriad problems and bad actors plaguing the agricultural community and other large landowners need to be addressed,” Otter wrote in a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke.

But “there remain significant legal and practical concerns,” Otter wrote. In particular, he highlighted “innocent behavior” that could be misinterpreted and severely punished; concern that land surveyors are not specifically exempted; and “a need for clearer language expressly providing for treble damages for removing timber from public lands.”

The governor said he had offered to help resolve some of the bill’s trickier parts, but lawmakers declined that offer.

“(T)his legislation laudably calling for a ‘renewal of the neighborly way’ also could have a chilling effect on recreationists, sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts, and ironically even neighbors afraid of inadvertently subjecting themselves to strict trespass laws,” Otter wrote.

▪  Otter also let a bill on noncompete agreements become law without his signature. The measure repeals a 2016 law that drew negative national publicity for Idaho by sharply limiting options for tech employees to quit their jobs to start up new businesses.

Otter wrote that there is “no consensus within the business community, or even within the community of technology-driven businesses, for this second change within two years to Idaho Code regarding noncompete agreements between employers and key employees or key independent contractors.”

However, 100 Idaho business leaders signed a letter to Otter before this year’s legislative session calling for the 2016 law’s repeal.

▪  Otter vetoed legislation that would have allowed charter schools to hire administrators who do not have the same certificate required by public school administrators.

The governor said he vetoed the measure because charter schools need strong instructional leaders just as much as public schools do. And he said that asking educators to follow an administrator who does not have experience in the education field undervalues the teaching profession.

Supporters of the bill had countered that charter schools need more flexibility to make effective hires.

Under the proposal, charter administrators would be required to have either five years of teaching experience, or five years of experience running a public charter school, or completion of a “nationally recognized charter school leaders fellowship.”

House members chose not to vote to override the veto. Instead, they returned the bill to committee at its sponsor’s request — signaling its demise.

The Associated Press contributed.

Dems: ‘It was entirely about politics’

House and Senate Democrats touted their legislative successes this year, but said when it came to the session’s top-tier issues – from two major tax bills to the Stand Your Ground law and anti-trespassing bill – majority Republicans shunted them aside. “Democrats were completely cut out of the room in those discussions,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.

“When you muzzle us, you’re not just muzzling Democrats – you’re muzzling our people who we represent,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett.

Erpelding said, “It was entirely about politics.” He particularly decried the majority’s unwillingness to take votes on bills that had made it all the way to the House floor, including the governor’s dual-waiver health care bill and his own Plan First Idaho bill on family planning coverage for low-income Idaho women. “That’s about party, not policy,” he said.

Erpelding said when Democrats were able to get legislation through, everyone knew the bills were sound, from Rep. Melissa Wintrow’s bill to ensure rape victims’ personal health insurance isn’t charged for forensic evidence collection from their bodies, to Rep. Ilana Rubel’s push to restore nonemergency dental coverage to 30,000 Idahoans on Medicaid, saving the state millions in the process. “Her bill is the only successful bill addressing health care this session,” Stennett said.

The Dems touted the approval of new school science standards, “bringing Idaho into the 21st Century;” the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship bill to expand the current scholarship program to also include adults returning to school; and the bill to repeal a restrictive 2016 law on non-compete clauses that crimped Idaho employees from leaving their jobs to start up new businesses. “While Idaho may have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, we also have some of the lowest wages,” Stennett said. “This is a huge step toward moving Idaho forward and putting jobs and workers first.”

The Dems also lauded the early passage of an unemployment insurance tax cut that will save Idaho employers millions over the next three years.

But Erpelding said overall, “The bills intended to directly benefit people were often dismissed or sent back to committees to die a quiet death.”

They decried the big income-tax cut bill that passed and was signed into law. “Idaho is heading down the same ham-handed road that led to the economic fiascos that Kansas and Oklahoma are now facing after enacting similar tax policy – and we risk effectively paralyzing our economy,” Erpelding said.

“To my mind, the most egregious malpractice that occurred this session was related to a bill that didn’t even get a floor vote, HB 464,” the dual-waiver bill, Erpelding said. “For six long years, we have failed to help the 60,000 Idahoans who work hard and don’t have access to health care. This session, not once, not twice, but three times, the politicians in charge punted on health care, putting their politics over people. Sen. Maryanne Jordan carried a bill for Medicaid expansion that never even got a hearing. Then the Idaho Health Care Plan was effectively killed on the House floor without a vote because the majority didn’t have the courage to do what was right.”

He said, “Dangling solutions in front of people who desperately need health care, only to rip it away after so many years, is beyond mean-spirited – it is cruel. Idahoans’ health and quality of life should be our first priority, not the political football it has become.”

Betsy Z. Russell, The Spokesman-Review