The House Education Committee plans to launch a new remote testimony project on Monday that will allow Idahoans to testify on bills without having to travel to Boise.
One of the bills up for a hearing that morning is House Bill 443, a piece of legislation encouraging school districts to offer voluntary, elective firearms safety courses in public schools and charters.
Under the Legislature’s remote testimony pilot program, residents who live outside of Boise and the Treasure Valley will be able to visit one of six regional remote testimony sites throughout the state.
Testimony sites are available in Post Falls, Twin Falls, Moscow, Carmen/Salmon, Idaho Falls and Pocatello — which will be more convenient for many Idahoans than braving the icy highways and trying to reach Boise by 9 a.m. Monday.
“Sometimes you just want to hear from the people whose lives these bills impact,” said Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, a Genesee Republican who pushed for the new testimony project. “But if you live too far away, it’s complicated to come to Boise, especially in the winter.”
Under the program, residents will be able to offer live testimony to the committee via videoconferencing technology during the meeting, which will be conducted by legislators sitting in the Statehouse in Boise.
Participation is free and open to the public, but there are a couple of rules to keep in mind.
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- First, the remote testimony program will only be activated for certain bills on certain days that are announced in advance. Monday is the first — and so far only — such day.
- Second, residents interested in testifying must sign up to do so by visiting the Legislature’s website and requesting to testify on a specific bill at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. That means Idahoans have until 9 a.m. Sunday to reserve a spot to testify on the gun safety bill, or the two other bills up for consideration that day. If nobody signs up to testify, the remote testimony sites will not open on Monday and the program will be put on hold again or shelved. VanOrden attempted to launch the program two weeks ago, but nobody signed to participate.
- Third, residents who sign up to testify must enter written testimony at the time they register to testify. That will assure their testimony will be considered, and they will be called to give live testimony Monday morning.
- Fourth, for anyone new to legislative hearings and decorum, House Education Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, and Troy uploaded a video tutorial that explains few of the basic testimony procedures to abide by and terms the public may encounter.
Troy pushed for the program after she and her constituents grew frustrated with the fact they had to travel to Boise to testify on a bill. In one case, Troy said she and a constituent split the cost of a plane ticket so the constituent could testify, only to see the hearing changed and the bill hijacked — leaving them no choice but to eat the cost of the plane ticket.
VanOrden quickly signed on to support the program, saying the education committee is a natural choice to debut the project because education affects so many residents and the funding for higher education and K-12 public schools combines to account for about 63 percent of all state general fund spending.
For Troy, videoconferencing is a n0-brainer. She used and became familiar with the technology over two decades in university settings. She really hopes the project proves useful for the public and opens up the legislative process to more Idahoans who feel isolated or out-of-touch from the Statehouse from Boise.
Eventually, Troy hopes the Legislature will use remote testimony in all committees, and then expand testimony sites to all Idaho counties and use the program for public hearings over proposed administrative rules.
“It just a matter of course for them (in the business and higher education sectors),” Troy said. ”It will be great when this gets to be a matter of course for the Idaho Legislature.”
Remote testimony locations
(Residents must visit the Legislature’s website by 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 25 to sign up to testify on a specific bill.)
Post Falls, North Idaho College Workforce Training Center, 525 Clearwater Loop.
Moscow, KUID Studio, University of Idaho, 901 Campus Dr.
Twin Falls, College of Southern Idaho, Canyon Building Room 110.
Pocatello, Idaho State University, Eli M. Oboler Library, 850 S. Ninth Ave.
Idaho Falls, Idaho Falls Research and Extension Center, Tingey Administration Building, 1776 Science Center Dr.
Carmen/Salmon, Nancy M. Cummings, University of Idaho Extension Office, 76 Hot Springs Road, Carmen (testimony site will be on the south side of the building).