Opinion

To Idaho legislators: What’s the meaning behind amendment proposal?

Robert Ehlert
Robert Ehlert

Say the word “constitution” in Idaho and you can get the attention of a lot of people from both parties.

Say the words “constitutional amendment” — as in House Joint Resolution 5 (HJR 5), which will be on your November ballot — and you are likely to stir up a hornet’s nest around the state.

After a narrow defeat of in the 2014 general election (50.5 percent to 49.5 percent), some Idaho legislators are back with HRJ 5, which, like the previous measure, would allow them an additional and overriding opportunity to second-guess rules written by state agencies in response to passed legislation.

In a scathing Guest Opinion written by Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (7C), he encourages Idahoans to vote no on a measure pushed by Republican lawmakers: “This permanent legislative takeover of powers, historically in the judicial and executive branches, erodes Idaho’s separation of powers and should be rejected. ... Under HJR 5, lobbyist influence will increase within Idaho’s government. The current system insulates much of executive rule making from lobbyist influence based on the notice and hearing process by which rules must be adopted. But that process is disrupted through lobbyist-encouraged legislative interference because that would allow the legislative branch to undo what the executive branch had decided.”

In a pro-HJR 5 Guest Opinion, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch encourages voters to pass the measure because it would secure “the ability to hold politicians accountable, protect Idahoans from excessive regulations, ensure your voice is heard and hold our state government accountable to the people it serves.”

Legislators already have opportunities to question agency rules, so why does this option have to be codified in the Idaho Constitution, at the potential expense of the executive and judicial branches?

Somebody needs to explain what’s broken and needs fixing — and why this is not, indeed, a “power grab.”

Hoosegow full of holes

Say the word “jail” and I think of a place where criminals and suspects awaiting trial are being held to protect the rest of us from a threat. So I think of a place where those inside have a hard time getting out.

I don’t think of an overcrowded main jail or a “tent” detention facility — the latter from which inmates can and do escape from with ease. But this is what you have in Canyon County.

I get that jails are expensive and don’t compare well to other government-funded amenities. Who wouldn’t rather have a new entertainment or sports venue or a community center? Who doesn’t want low taxes?

That said, the people of Canyon County have been dragging their feet on coming up with a solution for far too long. Sheriff Kieran Donahue has been sounding the alarm for years. And nobody seems to be listening, even though there have been four escapes from the tent facility in the past 18 months. The county has faced two lawsuits because of inadequate jail facilities.

Now that these circumstances again have the community’s attention, it’s time the people in the county and and their government leaders hit the reset button. There is a need to form some kind of Canyon County jail initiative, perhaps a commission made up of citizens, state legislators (smart guys like Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, come to mind), city mayors or representatives, and county commissioners who can create a plan, seek buy-in from the people, and sell it.

The county needs to get and hold the attention of voters. It is not going to be easy, inexpensive or quick — past jail bond measures have failed. But the county must make this the highest priority and get something done.

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