If you’re a political nerd, today was a great day. The final full day of the 2024 had more surprises than the rest of the session combined.

Just as the House and Senate convened at 9am, Rep. Wendy Horman, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, announced that JFAC would meet immediately. In that meeting, it was revealed that the Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation somehow found themselves $4.7 million short in their budget, and needed $2.7 million to cover outstanding obligations.

I wrote a story for the Chronicle reporting on that meeting and looking at the IDVR, so check it out for the details. The new supplemental budget request that came out of that meeting was printed as H769, however Rep. Horman later announced that they had received new information about the numbers and pulled it back to committee. It remained there when the House and Senate recessed this evening, so I assume it will be taken up next week.

While the House waited, the Senate took up the library bill, H710. It passed 24-11, with Republican Sens. Treg Bernt, Linda Hartgen, Abby Lee, and Julie VanOrden joining Democrats in opposition. Sen. Geoff Schroeder, who had voted against earlier iterations of the bill, but co-sponsored the compromise S1289 earlier this year, voted in favor.

A dramatic moment occurred when Sen. Chris Trakel asked permission to read from a book called Let’s Talk About It. Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke said only if it’s appropriate, and Trakel responded that it is appropriate, since a 12-year-old was able to check it out. He had barely begun reading when Bedke cut him off, thus proving his point: if it’s not appropriate for the Senate chamber, it’s not appropriate for children.

Later, the House took it up once more, to concur with the Senate amendments. (The Senate extended the reconsideration period from 30 days to 60 and added a clause mandating that libraries have policies regarding inappropriate materials.) Several representatives, including Reps. Kenny Wroten and Steve Berch, debated against, charging at the windmill one last time. The House passed the amended bill 45-24-1, with Rep. Rick Cheatum, who voted for the bill the first time, voting nay today.

The Senate got back to work, passing the budget bill for IDHW’s Welfare Division. The Senate had previously defeated the same budget, so JFAC had stripped the Summer EBT program and sent it back to the floor. Democrats lamented the loss of that welfare program, while Sen. Brian Lenney voted against the bill because it still had too many entitlements.

The Senate then looked to consider S1461, the appropriation for the Idaho Dept. of Transportation. The body had previously killed this bill 19-16, with some concerned about the spending and others upset about the way in which the bill halted the planned sale of ITD’s State St. campus.

Sen. Chuck Winder, who said this was his hill to die on last week, objected to the introduction of the bill. He cited Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which says that a bill of the same title and subject cannot be returned to the floor after it has been defeated. After conferring with the secretary, Lt. Gov. Bedke upheld the objection. Sen. Kelly Anthon, the Majority Leader, appealed the decision of the chair, and Bedke ruled his decision uphelf after what sounded like a very close voice vote. Anthon asked for division of the body (essentially a roll call vote) but Bedke ruled it out of order.

Image by Logan Finney

My advice to legislators is to always call for a roll call vote on important matters before the chair takes a voice vote.

With the ITD budget dead once more, JFAC needed to quickly reconvene. House Speaker Mike Moyle gaveled back in with a rubber chicken to allow Rep. Horman to announce the meeting.

JFAC convened again and quickly approved the same budget bill as before. Sen. Ben Adams joined the Democrats in opposition to the language unwinding the State St. sale, saying that JFAC is supposed to set budgets, not policy. Co-chairs Rep. Wendy Horman and Sen. Scott Grow both responded to that, explaining they had an attorney’s opinion that JFAC was within its rights to undo the sale as a condition of appropriations. Also, Grow added, once the budget bill is passed by the Legislature, it becomes policy anyway.

Sen. Janie Ward Engelking suggested having public hearings to discuss the proposal to unwind the sale, to which Sen. Scott Herndon responded that ITD didn’t have public hearings to approve putting the campus up for sale. Rep. Brooke Green lamented that they didn’t have more negotiations and working group meetings, to which Sen. Kevin Cook and Rep. Horman both responded that they had numerous meetings already.

The Senate returned from recess only for Sen. Anthon to immediately ask to go at ease so the Republicans could meet in caucus. I could feel Lt. Gov. Bedke’s frustration through the screen.

The House eventually returned and took up H770, the new ITD budget bill, passing it 37-31-2 with no debate. The House then recessed until noon on Wednesday, April 10.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans remained in caucus. Perhaps they grabbed dinner at some point, I don’t know. The issue of the ITD budget was pressing. With the House having recessed, that meant the Senate either had to pass H770, including canceling the State St. sale, or go home with no additional appropriations for the Transportation Department. Speaker Moyle and the House had called Sen. Winder’s bet. He said he would die on this hill, and that moment was at hand.

The Senate returned and began passing the remaining budget bills on the calendar. Sen. Tammy Nichols made a last-ditch effort to pass one more good bill when she moved to pull H493, banning mask mandates, from the drawer of Senate State Affairs. Sen. Abby Lee moved to excuse the committee from presenting the bill, which countered Nichols’ motion. During debate, Lee and others lauded the “process,” saying that committee chairs unilaterally holding bills is an important part of the system. Sens. Herndon and Trakel argued that it wasn’t right for committee chairs to hold bills that had passed the other chamber, and that a motion to bring it to the floor was part of the process as well.

In the end, Sen. Lee’s motion passed 26-9, so H493 remained in Chairman Jim Guthrie’s drawer.

The Senate finally brought H770 to the floor, and the long discussions in the caucus must have resulted in a consensus. The bill passed 18-17, with Sens. Kelly Anthon and Geoff Schroeder voting in favor after voting against the budget last week. Sen. Winder initially voted aye, but switched his vote to nay once he knew the bill had passed.

The Senate also approved H741, funding Gov. Brad Little’s Launch Grant for another year. (Edit: H741 makes minor structural changes to the Launch Grant program. The appropriations bill, H722, passed the previous day.)

A few minutes after 8pm, Lt. Gov. Bedke gaveled out as the Senate voted to recess until next Wednesday at 11am. The purpose of coming back in a week is to take care of any loose ends (such as the IDVR supplemental) as well as address any potential gubernatorial vetoes.

Thus ended a long day and an intense session. Over the next few weeks I’ll break down the highs and lows, see what was accomplished and what was stymied, and look ahead to how we can pursue conservative policies next year.

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