Tammy Nichols House

Freshman Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, watches as red “no” votes light up the voting board in the House on her first bill on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, before switching over to all-green, signifying that the bill passed the House unanimously. At center is Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; at right, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon.

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BOISE — Three freshman lawmakers presented their first bills to the full Idaho House on Monday, and House members responded with their usual hazing — most of the members voting “no,” then changing their votes at the last minute so that the largely non-controversial bills easily passed.

New Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, was assigned HB 15, the bill to exempt public records request fees from the sales tax. They’d already been considered exempt, but after the Pocatello Police Department tried to charge taxes on top of a copying fee, the state Tax Commission said the law was unclear, and it would propose a bill to clarify it; that led to HB 15.

“This is a taxpayer-friendly bill and very simple,” Nichols told the House, “and will be a benefit to the taxpayers in Idaho. So I ask for your vote on this. Thank you.”

As House members’ votes lit up on their electronic voting board, posted high above the chamber, it first appeared that the bill was failing, 29-35. Then, House Speaker Scott Bedke asked, “Does any member wish to change his vote?” By the time the machine was locked and the vote was final, the bill had passed unanimously, 67-0.

Freshman Rep. Jake Ellis, D-Boise, got similar treatment with a technical correction bill from the Tax Commission, HB 14, though that measure ended up with three “no” votes. But new Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, actually drew negative debate from new Rep. John Green, R-Post Falls, on his assigned bill, which simply changed the word “exemptions” to “allowances” to reflect changes in federal tax laws contained in the big tax cut bill that Congress passed last year, which doubled the standard deduction and did away with exemptions.

Green, a lawyer and outspoken constitutionalist, told the House, “I rise today to speak against HB 16, the reason is that this deals with provisions of the federal tax code that deal with withholding,” which he said “may be the greatest fraud against the American people to be perpetrated, including all Idahoans.”

Green said without having “digested” all federal tax codes ever passed on the topic, along with all court decisions, “It is not possible for anyone in this body, let alone the public, to understand the full import of withholding provisions without looking at provisions of law that are not within this section of code quoted here.” Specifically, he said, he takes issue with requiring employers to withhold taxes. “I think that’s a very important consideration … before we can cast an educated vote,” Green declared.

He apparently convinced some of his House colleagues, because once most of the voting lights switched back from the red lights signifying “no” to the green lights signifying “yes,” 16 remained red. The bill passed, 52-16, and now heads to the Senate; Treasure Valley representatives joining the opposition included Nichols; Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; and Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian.

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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