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Idaho Legislature week one: Debating legislation rules, abortion enforcement

The House State Affairs Committee got right to work in week one, taking on legislative rules and consequences for local governments not enforcing abortion laws.

BOISE, Idaho — Over at the Idaho Legislature, lawmakers are ramping up to major debates and policy discussions. The first week typically does not include a lot of those major discussions.

For example, this week lawmakers are talking about some of the intricate rules legislatures operate around. One of those rules is what some call a ‘loophole’ to get legislation to the House floor without it going through the process.

So, an idea has been pitched to close that up.

While some refer to it as a loophole, it is simply an Idaho House rule that can be used at different frequencies.

Last year the concept was seen a lot. In previous years, not as much.

Taking a step back though, almost all legislation in the statehouse goes through a process that involves a committee, and then to the House or Senate floor.

However, there is a limited window at the beginning of the legislative session where lawmakers can get a personal bill printed without that whole process.

There is a mechanism where that bill can be called to the floor, without the committee process.

In 2022, that mechanism was utilized by now former Rep. Ron Nate to talk about the grocery tax bill.

He argued that the personal bill process was the only way to get his idea debated, because committee chairs would not allow it to pass through, effectively killing his idea.

This year, Rep. Britt Raybould, a Republican from Rexburg, introduced a change to the rules so that personal, or 'informational bills' as they can be called, can be printed, but they cannot just be called to the floor.

The idea also caps personal bills at three per session, because there is a workload for legislative services that comes with it.

Raybould detailed her idea and answered a major clarifying question in committee.

"This is solely addressing what you may have previously heard referred to as the personal bill process, where these are bills that are essentially produced for the purposes of giving them a bill number and making them public," Raybould said. "That process in and of itself, I believe, is detrimental to the committee process and encouraging our representatives to go through regular order. The regular committee process, I believe, is the right way to encourage ideas being brought forward for the public to have the opportunity to weigh in and for us to consider as representatives."

Boise Democrat, Rep. John Gannon, asked if an informational bill essentially stays at just that, being an informational bill that could be used for other purposes, like sharing an idea with other lawmakers or the public, but not be called to the House floor.

“Yes, that is correct,” Raybould responded. “You still have the opportunity to call bills to the floor from the regular committee process. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that we are doing a disservice to the public when we attempt to pull a bill onto the floor without ever having had the opportunity to have a public hearing and have the opportunity for the public to participate in those deliberations.”

Rep. Heather Scott made a point in response echoing sentiments from Rep. Nate in 2022. Sometimes a committee chair will simply not allow a bill to get through a committee. It does happen for a variety of reasons.

Scott’s point is that the personal bill process and calling it directly to the floor can be the only way around a committee chair that won't hear a bill.

Rep. Raybould suggested that Rep. Scott pursue a rule change that would require committee chairs to hear all bills.

We will see where this idea from Raybould goes, it did pass committee and is on to the full House to consider.

Also making headlines out of early committee work, an idea from Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug on the topic of enforcing Idaho's criminal abortion laws.

His idea is to penalize local governments that refuse to enforce the abortion laws. Skaug pitched the idea that if a local government openly defies enforcement of Idaho’s criminal abortion laws, like if a city directed police to not investigate claims of criminal abortion, they will have tax dollars allocated to that city held by the Idaho State Tax Commission.

“If we allow cities to start sliding away from the laws that are felonies in this state, say, 'well, I'm just not going to enforce those,' they're going to be like Portland or Seattle and the anarchy that has started to edge in those cities," Skaug said. "This is just one area. So, that's what I would like to see this apply to other felonies, but we're just zeroing in on this one right now."

This is relevant in, for example, the City of Boise.

Last July, Boise City Council passed a resolution that basically says they won't use city resources to investigate claims or allegations of illegal abortions.

At the time, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said, "this resolution makes clear that the policy of the City of Boise is that we will not divert public safety resources from taking care of our neighborhoods to investigating claims of abortion."

So, if Skaug's idea eventually became law, the city could see tax revenue that is supposed to go to Boise withheld by the Idaho State Tax Commission.

Skaug’s idea was introduced Wednesday and will see a public hearing soon.

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