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Idaho lawmakers reflect on 2021 session, debate potential return later this year

Republican lawmakers want to leave the door open for a possible return if, for example, a new federal aid package could send money to Idaho.

BOISE, Idaho — A late night at the state Capitol Wednesday ended in unique circumstances, the Idaho Senate has officially adjourned, sine die, for the year. The Idaho House meanwhile has not technically adjourned for the year, instead taking an extended recess with the possibility of calling back both houses later this year. House Speaker Scott Bedke explains the move.

“It is unique, it puts us in a let’s hope nothing big happens and it will be business as usual. If something does, we have the ability to, with the concurrence of the senate, come back into session and to adjust our policies,” Bedke said.

Bedke says Statehouse leaders will be paying attention to the federal scene in the coming months to see, if like last year, there are any unexpected federal packages that could send money to Idaho. Republican lawmakers highlighted throughout the session that they believe it is their constitutional responsibility to appropriate funds.

“Our actions yesterday and at the end of the session made it possible to accomplish those responsibilities. But again, to reiterate, this is not a move to have a full-time Legislature in Idaho,” Bedke said.

Idaho Democrats have criticized the move by the House saying it is simply circumventing the governor’s authority to call a special session. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she sees the Senate’s actions versus the House on adjournment as a message to lawmakers about the possible decision to call lawmakers back.

“It was a way to send a loud message that we need to be deliberate and thoughtful and efficient with taxpayer money if were meant to be hanging out here until the end of the year,” Stennett said.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel pointed out that lawmakers will ask voters in 2022 if they want the Legislature to gain the ability to call themselves back into session.

“Feels to me like kind of a cheap end-run if they say, oh never mind, were not going to actually amend the Constitution, we are not actually going to have the public weigh in on this major matter. We are just going to turn ourselves into a yearlong Legislature that can call themselves back any time by recessing instead of adjourning,” Rubel said.

In terms of the action and content of the 2021 legislative session, Democrats are not shy in saying that they don’t think the Legislature did the best work for Idahoans.

“Many have called this the worst legislative session ever and it’s hard to dispute that conclusion. It’s particularly hard to swallow the damage done by the legislature when viewed in the light of the potential good that could have been achieved,” Rubel said.

RELATED: Idaho lawmakers end the session with $6 million in federal funds for pre-K on the table

Democrats say a fixation on executive powers, education debates that ignored facts, as well as unfair tax bills are just some of the things that took time away from solving real problems real Idahoans face. The biggest failure, according to Rubel, is legislation that makes the citizen ballot initiative process more difficult.

“Let there be no mistake, passing Senate Bill 1110 they struck a death blow to citizen-driven ballot initiatives. Passing 1110 was undoubtedly the worst offence in the worst session on record. Beyond disappointing that our governor was willing to use his veto power only to protect his own power and not to protect the power of the people of Idaho,” Rubel said.

Idaho Republicans have a much different opinion on the session, generally seeing it as a success. Bedke said House and Senate Republicans achieved major accomplishments including balance of powers legislation, surplus distribution and education investment reviews.  

“I think this is a very successful session in that we were able to accomplish things that we were never able to accomplish before,” Bedke said. “The mutually approved upon goals, which was to give tax relief, property tax relief and provide for a growing infrastructure, get money to our roads,” Bedke said.

It was admittedly a long session, the longest in state history, but Bedke said weeks of behind the scenes work resulted in good legislation to address important topics. He added that lawmakers will now go back home to their districts after extensive work and they will only address coming back to the statehouse if a major circumstance presents itself.

“This keeps the door cracked open and our foot in the door, as it were, if we need to react to something that we don’t anticipate,” Bedke said.

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