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Idaho lawmakers reflect on 2021 legislative session

The longest legislative session in Idaho history is now in the books after lawmakers finished a 3-day work week.

BOISE, Idaho — After 311 days, business for the Idaho Legislature is now officially closed at the Idaho Statehouse for the year.

“There was some relief there, this has been long and hard and frankly divisive at times. But, you’ll notice we still had 24 people that didn’t vote to end it so that points to taking these issues up next session,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley).

Bedke said after three days of work, the result is disappointing for some that were hoping to see legislation adopted to take on the Biden administration vaccine mandates.

“And I guess we fought to a draw. We came a few votes short in the Senate to move the legislation out of the Senate. What we should learn from this is that this is still a bicameral system and it’s going to take the House with the Senate and the Senate with the House in order to move stuff across the finish line,” Bedke said.

The Idaho House approved legislation this week, but those bills didn't make it through the Senate for a variety of reasons. One commentary is that the Senate simply called it a year after seeing dysfunctional legislation coming from the House process. Idaho Democrats at the Statehouse say that’s not a bad thing.

“I’m pleased that, frankly, none of the bills before us passed. I had a lot of concerns substance and procedurally about how all of this went down,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise).

Rubel says there are concerns about the perception of the House following this week. Many saw it as the wilder side of the statehouse, which isn’t new, but is still a concern.

“It did feel that way to some extent, which pains me, because I’m a member of the House. I’ve dedicated eight years of my life to this body, and I hate for us to be seen as not a serious legislative body. But, I think there is some of that concern and frankly you saw it in that a lot of the key players -- the hospitals, the (Idaho) Association of Commerce and Industry, the big players in the business world -- didn’t even bother showing up on the House side because I think they viewed that House as hopeless, and the only people that would listen to some of these serious concerns were over in the Senate,” Rubel said.

The last three days at the Statehouse cost Idaho taxpayers about $100,000, which is a concern for some lawmakers who say that was a waste, considering the end result: no meaningful legislation was passed.

Money aside though, lawmakers agree the process of listening to Idahoans on major topics was important. Just ask Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum).

“A good education for both sides, we got to hear from the people and take those thoughts into January, and they were able to learn that there are many things already, tools, to defend themselves, to protect themselves, they are already in statute. So, we made some good successes and I think that piece of it was encouraging and a reason why it might have been a good idea to be here. You make the best out of the opportunity,” Stennett said.

To be clear, Idaho Democrats were against coming back this week, believing there wasn't anything that couldn't wait until January. This week is a good reminder for Idaho lawmakers about the importance of the process and topics heading into the 2022 session.

“We are not the same people, our constituents aren’t the same, our regions are not the same. That’s where we have to be the voice for the people who elected us, and there will be differences," Stennett said. "It’s how we manage ourselves with those differences and start the labeling and the attacking and actually get down to work and respect each other in the process.”   

With essentially no legislation passed this week, the stage is set for the Idaho Legislature to take up COVID and vaccine issues early next year. Some lawmakers argue that not passing anything this week is OK, it’s proof the system works.

“Everyone knows this on some level. We get wrapped up in our own ideas and the strength of those ideas according to us, but until we go through a vetting process and until they are peer reviewed, we want our system to work that way. If we are going to change laws, we want there to be a thorough vetting in both the House and the Senate because our system moves slow on purpose. We don’t change things easily and when we do, we do it when there is agreement. If we don’t have agreement, we shouldn’t change it,” Bedke said.  

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