Legislative roundup, 5.5.21: Day 115 focuses on exit strategies

On Day 115 of the third-longest legislative session in state history, senators started bickering Wednesday about exit strategies.

But by late afternoon, both houses adopted a plan to pick up work next week, which would make the marathon 2021 session a record-breaker. At 8:44 p.m., the Senate recessed until 1 p.m. May 12; around 15 minutes later, the House recessed until 3 p.m. the same day.

The big education issues were all but settled for the year Tuesday, when the Senate followed the House’s lead and passed budgets for higher education and teacher salaries, and authorized K-12 schools to spend more than $454 million in federal coronavirus stimulus dollars.

The Legislature took up two education funding bills Wednesday. The House unanimously earmarked $750,000 for private high school students to take dual-credit classes and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. The Senate approved spending nearly $2.9 million of federal coronavirus aid to provide homeless students with a variety of services — including housing, classroom technology ant WiFi and tutoring. Both spending bills go to Gov. Brad Little.

However, lawmakers debated a host of other last-minute topics. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate narrowly passed a far-reaching and controversial property tax relief bill. After debate falling along party lines, the Senate passed a series of bills continuing the ongoing battle over legislative and gubernatorial powers in an emergency. The Senate also approved $70 million in federal coronavirus aid money for child care centers, another funding bill headed to Little’s desk.

Day 115 began with some procedural squabbling on the Senate floor. Democrats made a motion to adjourn the session entirely. That failed on a party-line vote.

Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported on the floor fight:

  • “I think it’s a slap in the people’s face of Idaho that we haven’t finished our business, we haven’t given property tax relief, we haven’t finished a lot of things that need to be done for the benefit of our citizens,” said Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
  • “I think what I am lamenting is the fact that it’s taken this long, and I fear that we’re never going to leave and that we’re becoming a full-time Legislature,” said Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise. “Many of these things could have been secured and finished very early in the session, but instead we have been addressing things that are probably least important to the people.”

After the Democrats’ motion failed, the Senate went into recess, Republicans went into a caucus and the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hastily scheduled meeting.

The committee endorsed a proposal from Winder, calling for the Senate to recess from May 6 through May 11, which would allow lawmakers to come back to town on May 12. This would give Little five working days to sign — or veto — the final bills of the 2021 session. By remaining in session, and not adjourning for the year, the Legislature reserves the right to override a veto.

Without debate, senators adopted Winder’s resolution on a voice vote Wednesday afternoon, sending it to the House.

Speed bump slows recess plans

But Winder’s proposed path home hit some resistance in the House Wednesday night.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott protested the resolution, saying the Legislature shouldn’t and might not be able to rush through its remaining business by the end of Wednesday night. Scott, who is from Blanchard, joined Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, in decrying a provision of the proposal, which would stop legislators from getting per diem during the recess.

Scott said she dips into campaign finance funds as it is to rent her Treasure Valley apartment during the session. Barbieri said rent and other expenses would be burdensome for him, too.

“It just seems to me that, you know, if we’re in session, we should be paid per diem. And if we can’t be productive, that’s the way it has to be. Sometimes we’re not productive, but to just willy-nilly determine that we’re going to take five days off … two of those days (for travel), but we’re not going to get paid? It’s just a problem,” Barbieri said.

The House passed the recess proposal on a 35-22 vote, at the urging of Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett.

Said Blanksma, “I think we can all agree that we want to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I think that’s what we’re all here for.”

Blanksma began to explain how lawmakers could be compensated for travel expenses, reading from a letter that detailed the process, but she was interrupted by an objection from Scott. Blanksma then summarized the letter and the bill cleared the House.

The longest legislative session in state history — at least for now — took place in 2003, and stretched for 118 days.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Idaho Education News covered Wednesday’s floor sessions remotely.


Kevin Richert and Blake Jones

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