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Idaho lawmakers debate pace and efficiency of 2021 legislative session

As lawmakers approach a record-long legislative session, legislators debate if they are taking their time or dragging their feet.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers got right to work Monday, the House passed several budgets with little conversation to kick off another week at the Capitol. Some lawmakers said it’s an encouraging sign after what some are calling a slow going last few weeks.

“Well, we are very aware of how many days we’ve been here, but we are also committed to not have expediency take the place of accuracy,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke.

Bedke said lawmakers hear the criticism of a long session but that they are there to do a thorough job and said budgets passed early Monday are a good sign of what’s to come.

“You could see the health and welfare budget that we sent across to the Senate, I think that signals a log jam breaking. I mean, if you are an insider here, those were some of the things that have not been moving, the education budgets nor the health and welfare budgets,” Bedke said.

The speaker thinks that the trend will continue.

“We are at the point where things will start happening much quicker than they have been. The whole session leads up to these couple of weeks at the end where everything comes to fruition,” Bedke said.

Democrats like Rep. James Ruchti said the work Monday is good, but there is a long way to go.

“We got more bills accomplished but we still have a long way to go. It’s not so much what we did today, it’s what we didn’t get done today that concerns me,” said Ruchti.

Democrats have expressed frustration in recent weeks that the Legislature is focusing on culture wars and fringe ideologies instead of nuts and bolts issues like infrastructure and education policy.

“We have more budget bills that need to be passed. The university budgets have not been funded, K-12 education still needs to be funded. So there is plenty of work to do and we haven’t gotten to it yet,” Ruchti said.

Ruchti pointed out a dynamic at the Statehouse that some believe is simply dragging out the legislative process.

“The House, I think, is almost emboldened to take on wilder and more extreme ideas because even those who maybe don’t fully buy into it will vote for it because they know the Senate will kill it. That’s not a good way to legislate, I mean legislators should take a look at legislation and evaluate it on its merits in the body they are in and not rely on some other body to potentially kill a bad piece of legislation,” Ruchti said.

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Bedke said he knows there is an urgency to get legislation passed but there is a need to do it right.

“There is urgency but there is also a commitment to see this through. If you indulge me with a track analogy, we train all season and were at the state track meet here and we are coming up on the last lap of the two-mile race. This is what we train for and so we are not going to quit the race because it’s gone on longer than we thought,” Bedke said.

Ruchti said he has a different perspective on why some lawmakers say it’s just a careful process that takes time at this point in the session.

“The Legislature is being held hostage by the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. So, it’s not really about being meticulous and careful in the traditional sense it’s trying to avoid upsetting the extreme right-wing or trying to pacify them and that’s not good for Idahoans, what that means is that good legislation is being held hostage by their needs and wants,” Ruchti said.

Bedke said they still have important work to finish, like property tax, for Idahoans and they won’t rush that just so they can wrap up.

“For the sake of expediency or for the sake of losing, we don’t want to have come this far on important issues without coming home with something," Bedke said.

Ruchti said, again, there is a lot of work to still be done.

“There is going to be some difficult decisions made on both sides of the aisle to get us through and get us out of the session but I think the discussion is just beginning,” he explained.

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