The Final Weeks of the 2017 Legislative Session and Bill Reading in the House
It is sad to report that the House continues to operate in the status quo of “never enough time to do it right but always time to do it over”. As the tentative March 24th session deadline drew closer, there was an urgency to “get done and go home”. This reckless rapid pace of Pelosi-style “pass-it-to-find-out what’s-in-it” style of legislating is completely counterproductive to what Idaho really needs and is good evidence for justification of a major overhaul of committee system we currently operate under. This last minute bursting of the legislative log jam of bills which have stacked throughout the session, would have likely lead to the further eroding of our rights, our liberties and our once important constitutional principles.
Because of the importance legislators put on quality legislation, a group of liberty legislators took the initiative to actually read bills to understand what they said and to slow the pace down to a more manageable level.
This is exactly what we were elected to do: review, debate and make sure we understand the bills before the final vote; not act like we are in a legislative sprint to the finish and common sense be damned. When lunch breaks and spring break vacations become more important than the impact of the laws we pass and their ultimate effects on the lives of Idahoans, we have lost our way. To pass legislation in this fashion is reckless and will most certainly have negative consequences for hard working Idaho families and their dollars and freedoms.
And it is constitutional!
Idaho Constitution Art 3 Section 15 says “On the final passage of all bills, they shall be read at length, section by section, and the vote shall be by yeas and nays upon each bill separately, and shall be entered upon the journal; and no bill shall become law without the concurrence of a majority of the members present.” There are only 11 states where a bill is never read in full.
This concept was challenged in 1897. The Brown vs. Collister court ruling provided, “The Legislature has no power to dispense with [not read] the final reading of a bill, section by section, and an act not read section by section, at least on final reading, is void.”
The House does not have the constitutional authority to request the final reading be dispensed with thus if allowed to pursued, the Speaker of the House has not enforced the proper constitutional procedures. Other states have amended their constitutions and rules regarding the reading of bills including Nevada which has a Nov 2018 voter initiative to remove the third reading requirement.
Since Idaho’s constitution and legislative rules have not been changed to mirror other states, legislators have used the third reading to emphasize other internal problems:
- To draw attention to the bill and its contents.
- To make sure all legislators have read the bill and know the contents (the quantity of bills voted on each day makes it impossible for legislators to read them all).
- To gain the attention of the speaker, about unfair conduct.
- To protest an action of a speaker or a particular legislator.
- To actually hear the bill and know its content for yourself.
- To make sure others including the public know what is in the bill.
- A constituent asked for it to be read.
- To slow down the process to catch up on the other bills that will be voted on
- The bill is very important and will be added to the constitution
- The bill is honoring someone and its reading is part of a presentation
A few examples of fast-tracked bills during the 2017 session that troubled some legislators included:
- a 42-page bill about new oil and gas laws was significantly changed and only made available to the public a few minutes before we actually voted on it. It passed with flying colors even though the public and affected property owners had little time to review and give input after six new amendments were added last minute.
- A 20-page wage garnishment bill, a bill regarding lewd conduct and alcohol sales, grocery tax elimination bill, income tax bill, an unemployment insurance bill, and three bills concerning contested elections. This list doesn’t even include the emergency road repairs and general transportation bills that were presented and voted on the same day.
- And let’s not forget last year’s 30 plus page bill with a huge tax increase on gasoline and a doubling of citizen’s registration fees was held until 1:00 AM to be voted on!
These bills, like all bills, deserve thorough consideration and legislators should be able to vote on them after thorough review; not screamed at or brow beaten for actually wanting to read it and understand it prior to voting on it. Behind the scenes scheming and shenanigans by leadership often stops the process or circumvents normal procedure. Many times our legislators don’t even know what is going on.
What does the future hold?
March 27, 2017, Representative McCrostie (Democrat from District 16 in Boise) submitted a House Joint Resolution requesting a constitutional amendment that would remove the reading requirement. This issue opens the discussion about our representative form of government while highlighting our state’s governing process. Should legislators read and understand the content of bills before they vote on new laws, or is the public okay with laws being passed that their own legislators don’t comprehensively understand?