Scott Bedke file by Brian

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke

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Here's an article from the Lewiston Tribune, which also appeared on the front page of today's Idaho Press:

By William L. Spence

BOISE — As Idaho lawmakers near the midway point of the 2021 legislative session, their to-do list hasn’t changed much since they arrived at the Statehouse in January.

Republicans came into the session with a full head of steam, intent on ending the governor’s coronavirus emergency declaration, lifting pandemic-related restrictions and getting Idaho “back to normal.”

After lengthy behind-the-scenes discussions, however, the efforts to terminate the declaration have largely been abandoned. And while some statewide restrictions have been eased, locally approved mask mandates and other public health orders remain in place.

Lawmakers also want to limit executive branch powers during future emergencies. Those bills continue to advance, albeit slowly. Multiple versions have been introduced, revised and reintroduced. The House on Tuesday passed HB 135 to limit the governor’s emergency powers, the Idaho Press reported; it will now move to the Senate side.

“It’s a good thing we hit the ground running this year,” joked House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

On a more serious note, Bedke acknowledged that getting the legislation right, so it avoids unintended consequences, has been a challenge.

“We’re trying to get something that works and that doesn’t upset the apple cart,” he said.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said upsetting the apple cart is pretty much the only thing Republicans accomplished during the first five weeks of the session.

“From my perspective, just about everything they’ve done has been singularly unhelpful,” Rubel said.

For example, she pointed to proposals requiring local governments to get legislative approval before they can rename certain streets or permanently remove historical statues, as well as bills making it harder for citizen initiatives to qualify for the ballot.

“All the oxygen in the room has been taken up by these efforts to snatch power away from the governor, from cities and counties, and from the people,” Rubel said. “A number of these bills also don’t pass legal muster.”

For their part, she said, Democrats have been “laser-focused” on bills aimed at helping Idahoans.

Some have bipartisan support — such as her legislation legalizing medical marijuana, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston. Other measures deal with high school mentoring programs, minimum wage increases and criminal records.

Although the bills have been introduced, none has made it through committee yet.

Similarly, much of Gov. Brad Little’s legislative agenda is still awaiting action.

In his Jan. 11 State of the State address, the governor announced his “Building Idaho’s Future” plan, which calls for $450 million in one-time and ongoing tax relief, plus about $360 million in transportation, education and infrastructure investments.

As the session enters its sixth week, only a handful of appropriations bills related to the effort have come out of committee, and no significant tax relief legislation has even been introduced.

Nevertheless, Alex Adams, the governor’s budget director, said he’s pleased with the way things are going.

“We’ve had quite a few conversations with the germane (policy-setting) committees,” Adams said. “They’re getting a better understanding that most of this is one-time money we’ve freed up and want to reinvest in one-time projects that have long-term benefits.”

Executive branch agencies have also proposed several bills to delete obsolete sections of state code. That includes a reference to the Idaho Tuberculosis Hospital, which no longer exists.

The legislation is part of Gov. Little’s efforts to reduce the state’s regulatory burden.

“For every regulation we get rid of, there’s a state statute that authorized it,” Adams said. “All told, we have about 30 bills to remove sections of code. Generally, those bills are sailing through.”

Bedke noted that, historically, the first several weeks of a session are when lawmakers introduce bills and try to find consensus on major issues. The latter half of the session is when legislation really starts to move.

Consequently, he’s not displeased with the progress made so far.

“I think the House and Senate are working together in a way we haven’t done before,” he said. “We’re going back and forth, trying to get things right, rather than introducing bills and then redrafting them (after problems arise). There’s a different dynamic between the House and Senate leadership teams, and that’s trickling down to the committees. A new leaf has been turned.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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