100 days in, please go home now, Idaho legislators, before this session gets even worse

The Editorial Board
·4 min read

As if this Idaho legislative session couldn’t go any lower, we now have a sexual misconduct investigation of a state legislator. Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, is accused of committing this act at his apartment — which we’re all paying for as taxpayers.

To make matters worse, in an irresponsible display of shameful recklessness, one Republican legislator shared a website post that identified von Ehlinger’s accuser, under the paranoid guise that the alleged misconduct is fabricated as part of “the swamp” in Idaho meant to silence a “conservative” legislator.

Meanwhile, the legislative hits keep on coming.

A bill to ban mask mandates. A bill to ban any discussion of sexism or racism. A bill that would ban books or any other material that address the supremacy of one race over another, with the unintended consequence of banning history books that talk about the Holocaust, for example.

The Legislature has already made it more difficult to bring forth a citizens initiative, meaning the only ones likely to be able to get something on the ballot will be well-moneyed, out-of-state special interest groups rather than grassroots efforts.

This legislative session surpassed the 100-day mark Tuesday, and Idahoans have very little to show for it. Namely, lawmakers still have not addressed property taxes by simply raising the homeowners exemption and indexing it. This was widely considered one of the top priorities of most candidates during last year’s election — yet none have taken action.

In what looks like a crusade against education, legislators have rejected a federal early education grant and have attacked K-12 public education and Idaho’s higher education system, apparently stemming from an almost maniacal (and completely misplaced) obsession from the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s agenda over social justice programs and the make-believe indoctrination of young children.

We’ve seen a series of bills trying to wrest power from the governor (vetoed and failed in the override attempt), to defund and limit the Idaho Attorney General’s Office functions, to prevent government agencies from removing monuments without legislative permission — and, of course, to effectively ban abortions in Idaho.

To this point, the entire session has been a colossal waste of time, and there’s no end in sight.

Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of legislative leadership, namely House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, who have let this session spin out of control by allowing the far-right fringe of their party to dominate the debate on far-flung topics while important issues languish.

With a two-week, taxpayer-funded “vacation” induced by a COVID-19 outbreak included — because Republican legislators wouldn’t take basic, simple precautions amid a pandemic that many of them still lie about — this could end up being the longest session in state history.

The two longest sessions came in 2003 (117 days) and 2009 (118 days). This likely will surpass those and become the longest — and worst — session in Idaho history. Those sessions dealt with difficult topics, such as raising the cigarette tax and handling a budget shortfall amid the Great Recession. This session, though, has no excuse.

On average, since 1994, legislative sessions have lasted 82-83 days.

In reality, the Legislature should have a fixed time for the session, ending in, say, February or March at the latest, with a deadline for printing bills. This would lead to a more focused agenda and require legislators to do their homework before they come to the Capitol with a flurry of ill-conceived, nonsensical bills.

As we inch closer to the horrible reality of a May sine die, legislators should do all they can to pass required budgets and get out of Boise before they do even more damage.

Then they can spend the rest of the year sitting back and watching as the lawsuits work their way through court in response to their reckless actions.

Editor’s note: The Idaho Statesman is not naming the legislator who shared the website post to avoid drawing attention to the accuser’s identity.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are publisher Rusty Dodge, opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.