House grinds to a standstill on the eve of planned adjournment date

The House came to a virtual standstill Thursday, and the 2017 session will not adjourn this week.

Legislative leaders had hoped to adjourn for the year on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Senate worked efficiently and cleared its reading calendar. But the House’s inaction prevents the Senate from doing much else, so senators went home frustrated. As they adjourned for the day, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, apologized and told senators the session will continue into next week.

“Based on their current burn rate, we’re deep into next week based on the procedural challenges they are experiencing over there (in the House),” Davis said.

Four conservative lawmakers deadlocked the House during morning and afternoon floor sessions, preventing legislators from moving through the House’s calendar of remaining bills up for consideration.

At various times, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, forced the House clerk to read bills aloud — line by line— on the House floor. Normally, legislators ask for their colleagues’ permission to forgo detailed reading of bills and proceed directly to debate and voting.

In the past, forcing the reading of bills has alternately served as a stall tactic, a punishment or a way to emphasize bills that lawmakers feel haven’t received the proper amount of scrutiny.

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In response to objections from Giddings and Hanks, House Speaker Scott Bedke put the House at ease — a sort of extended timeout, while lawmakers discussed their procedural concerns behind closed doors.

The forced readings and subsequent timeouts ground productivity to a halt for much of the day. Representatives began Thursday with about 45 bills on their reading calendars, but had only worked their way through three bills before calling it a day shortly after 5 p.m.

The lack of productivity during the day prevents the Legislature from adjourning for the year because lawmakers still haven’t approved all state budget bills.

Earlier Thursday, Bedke held an amended tax bill at his desk. House Bill 67a was originally designed to reduce the state’s income tax rates. But the Senate amended it Wednesday so the bill would repeal the state’s grocery tax and grocery tax credit and do nothing with income tax rates.

House Speaker Scott Bedke

Bedke told reporters he will likely refer the grocery tax bill to a House committee for a quick review, but he did not take action before adjourning for the day Thursday.

“We’re going to play it by ear,” Bedke said. “Having said that, we’re not going to leave bills of that importance to hang.”

Even before the second and more time-consuming afternoon deadlock, Bedke cast doubt on adjourning the session this week. Even with adjournment up in the air, Bedke still hopes to address transportation infrastructure and maintenance issues, as well as the state’s business climate and tax relief.

“I think we can still accomplish some stuff — put quotes around that,” Bedke said. “We ought to do it.

“I have no plans next week,” Bedke continued. “A self-imposed deadline… is no excuse for us to leave issues unaddressed when there is as much overlap in the positions as there seems to be. Call me optimistic, I guess, or whatever.”

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