A political staring contest lasted late into the night Wednesday as legislators disagreed over how to wrap up the longest legislative session in Idaho history.
Ultimately, the Idaho Senate voted to adjourn the 2021 legislative session for the year at about 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Shortly before 11:30 p.m., the Idaho House of Representatives voted down a motion from Democrats to adjourn the session for the year.
The House then voted 53-9 to instead take a recess, subject to the call of House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, to a date no later than Dec. 31.
The move is essentially designed to let the House call itself back in session without needing Gov. Brad Little to authorize a special session. By Idaho law, only the governor can call the Legislature back for a special session once the Legislature adjourns sine die.
Moments before going at recess, the House adopted House Resolution 4, which terminates per diem payments and vouchered expenses during the recess, unless such expenses are approved by Bedke.
“Where that basically puts us is if something happens between now and the end of the year that the presiding officer feels is of the nature to call us back into session, then we will,” Bedke told the Idaho Capital Sun in an interview on the House floor. “There is a crack in the door for the Legislature to react to the unforeseen.”
The Idaho Constitution says neither legislative chamber “shall, without the concurrence of the other, adjourn for more than three days … ”
Bedke said that the House essentially gave concurrence for the Senate to adjourn for the year on Wednesday.
“We feel confident if we get to that point and we have business to conduct, then if we go back into session then the concurrence on (the Senate) being away ends and they would come back into session at that point,” Bedke said.
Legislators will publicly release a letter from the office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on Thursday explaining where things stand now that the Senate has adjourned but the House has not, Bedke said.
Gov. Brad Little signs property tax bill
Little signed into law a property tax bill Wednesday that would increase the homeowner’s exemption.
Little signed House Bill 389, which increases the homeowner’s exemption from $100,000 to $125,000 and increases the circuit breaker benefit up to $1,500 for qualifying individuals.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, sponsored the bill and said it would provide relief for Idahoans who have seen increases in their property taxes in recent years. The bill also provides tax relief for commercial property owners.
But Little appeared to sign the bill reluctantly.
In a letter sent to Bedke on Wednesday, Little said he was concerned by the process leading up to the bill’s passage and the fact it was introduced in the waning days of the legislative session.
He also said the sharp increase in property valuations means the bill will only slow property tax increases, not provide long-term relief.
“I am signing House Bill 389 because it provides some relief to Idaho taxpayers,” Little wrote to Bedke. “However I fear the long-term consequence may outweigh this temporary reprieve.”
Democrats warned that the increase in circuit breaker benefit comes at the cost of cutting other people out of the program by changing eligibility requirements.
“Gov. Little bemoaned ‘unintended’ consequences for seniors, but the GOP designed the bill deliberately to kick certain low-income seniors out of property tax assistance,” Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said in a written statement.
The 2021 session is the longest in Idaho history
Wednesday was day 122 of the 2021 session, which began Jan. 11. The previous longest session in Idaho history ran for 118 days in 2003.
Since legislators returned from the first recess of the session April 6, the session has cost Idaho taxpayers almost $450,000.
Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: [email protected] Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.