Democrats threaten to stall session

BOISE — Legislative leadership expects to wrap up the session by mid-to-late next week, but Democrats say not so fast.

Heavily outnumbered by GOP members in both the House and Senate, Idaho Democrats made it clear Tuesday, they want two more bills considered before going home. Leaders said if they’re not, House minority leaders say they intend to stall the session.

The two bills the Democrats want to see in committee hearings involve generating revenue, through an increase in tobacco tax, and allowing voters to decide on the controversial education reform plans. Republican leaders say neither is necessary, and it’s time to go home.

Democrats may stall session

Democratic leaders in the House say they may “slow the march toward adjournment” if Republicans don’t allow the two bills go to full committee hearings.

“Until this appropriate action is at least considered, we as a legislature are not serving our citizens well,” Representative John Rusche, House Minority Leader, said.

A political analyst for KTVB says the Democrats have several options they can use to stall the session, at least for a little while.

“They can read the bills on floor debate. They each have the opportunity to debate for an hour, so that’s yet more time, right? They can ask endless questions of supporters.” KTVB Political Analyst Dr. David Adler said.

Allowing citizens to vote on education reform

The first bill Democrats want considered is an advisory vote put on the 2012 ballot that would allow voters to decide if they want to keep legislator-approved education reform plans as law.

“It’s by no means clear that there are enough Republicans willing in effect to challenge leadership on that issue to break from the position held by leadership, but it’s a way for Democrats to try to bring the issue to the attention of Idahoans one last time,” Adler said.

Republican majority leadership says it’s unnecessary.

“I have the confidence in letting the new reform ideas that many of the reform ideas that many of the legislators voted for have a chance to work,” Rep. Ken Roberts, House Majority Caucus Chair, said.

Revenue generation through tobacco tax

The second issue is Democrats want to generate revenue for education and Medicaid through a $1.25 tobacco tax increase. They say that could generate up to $50 million in revenue for the general fund.

“We’ve talked about tobacco tax increase every year since I’ve been here, and we’ve seen no movement at all, and we feel like we’ve had a mandate from our constituents that this is what they want us to do, so we’re going to use every means available to see that it’s done,” Representative Elfreda Higgins, House Asst. Minority Leader, said.

Republicans, as they have all session, say revenue increases aren’t a good option, especially now that they say the budget is balanced without upping taxes.

‘When it finally got down to the last few weeks of the session, we realized the projected revenues were adequate and we really didn’t need the extra funding because we had a balanced budget,” Roberts said.

The cost of a delay

Adler says if they’re denied hearings, at most, Democrats could delay the session a day and a half.

Roberts says any delay is inappropriate because each day in session comes with a $30,000 price tag to taxpayers.

Democrats say taking up issues their constituents want considered is worth the money. They’re also citing a $100,000 appropriation to the state Republican Party for attorney fees after the state lost a lawsuit regarding Idaho’s open primary laws. They say that money could have been used for the session or education funding.

Right now, legislators are considering a bill that would close Idaho’s Republican primary to all but registered party voters. Adler anticipates that will be the last bill where we may see controversy this session. He believes the session will wrap next Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any great surprises or any more drama here. We’re witnessing the sprint to the finish line,” Adler said. “There may be some argument on the election bill over the next few days. We’ll see if the Democrats can produce any theatrics or any drama, but barring those episodes, I think we’re about to see the door close on this session.”


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