The House has voted 53-16 in favor of Rep. Joe Palmer's bill to force the city of Boise to elect its city council members by geographic district, rather than city-wide. "We set the law," Palmer, R-Meridian, told the House. "Could you imagine what this room would look like if we were elected at large across the whole state of Idaho?"
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, spoke out against the bill, HB 413, saying it was "the Legislature coming in telling these cities how to run their business." The bill would apply only to cities who had more than 100,000 population at the last Census; Boise currently is the only city in the state that meets that criteria, but Meridian and possibly Nampa could also fall into that category after the census that will launch this spring.
Rubel said currently in Boise, city council terms are staggered, so half come up for a vote every two years, giving citizens city-wide input into the council each time. Under the bill, half the city's residents wouldn't get to vote every two years; they'd have to wait for four years until their district's seats were up.
"I think it would actually reduce the ability of citizens to have a say in their city government," she said.
Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, said the way he read the bill, it appeared to have a flaw that would require cities under 100,000 to vote by geographic district only, if they have districts. Idaho Falls is concerned about that, he said, because it has designated districts from which each council member must come, but all are voted on city-wide. The bill appears to force Idaho Falls to change to voting within districts only, he said. "They don't want to go there, and I don't want to force them to go there."
Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell, who currently serves on the Caldwell City Council, debated in favor of the bill, saying he wished it went further and applied to smaller cities too. He said it would create "better representation."
At the earlier committee hearing on the bill, backers railed against the current Boise City Council's makeup, saying too many current members are from the city's North End. To become law, the bill still would need to clear a Senate committee, pass the Senate, and receive the governor's signature. Idaho Press reporter Margaret Carmel has a full report here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or you can pick up Friday's edition of the Idaho Press.