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Idaho legislator pushing for the end of personal bills in the Idaho House

Idaho State of the State
Otto Kitsinger
/
Idaho Gov. Brad Little gives his State of the State speech in the house chambers of the State Capitol building on January 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Rep. Barbieri sponsors resolution to propose rule change that would allow bills to be introduced only by committee

Rep. Vito Barbieri is sponsoring a new resolution that would eliminate so-called personal bills in the Idaho House of Representatives.

If adopted, House Resolution 2 would eliminate seven words from House Rule 6 so that the rule would state “No bill shall be introduced except by committee…”

Most bills in the Idaho House go through the committee process, where a panel of legislators votes on whether to introduce a bill and then usually conducts a public hearing on a bill before taking a vote on whether to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the full Idaho House. The resolution does not apply to the Idaho Senate.

However, personal bills go around the committee process and are introduced by individual legislators on the floor. As a general rule, those bills don’t advance because legislators view personal bills as circumventing the committee process. Instead of advancing, the legislative practice is to send those bills to the House Ways and Means Committee to languish and then die without any further consideration.

Personal bills have a history on the Idaho House floor

Often legislators introduce a bill as a personal bill when they are unable to secure an introductory hearing from a committee chairperson. Introducing a personal bill allows a legislator to get the language of the bill out in front of the public and raise awareness of an issue, even though legislators know those bills won’t advance.

Examples of personal bills from 2022 include:

  •  House BIll 440, a personal bill from former Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, intended to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act to provide legal protections for LGBTQ+ Idahoans.
  •  House Bill 447, a personal bill from Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, intended to create the Idaho Paid Family Leave Act and provide paid parental leave for all public and private employees in the state.
  • House Bill 448, a personal bill from former Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, that was intended to remove the sales tax on food.

After he introduced House Bill 448 as a personal bill last year, Nate and his legislative allies made dozens of unsuccessful attempts on the House floor to pull the bill out of the House Ways and Means Committee and bring it forward for a vote — extending the floor sessions and irking some legislators in the process after it became clear Nate did not have the support to move forward.
Resolution aims to prevent ‘abuses’ of personal bills, sponsor says

Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday that House Resolution 2 is designed to prevent “abuses” of the issues the Idaho House dealt with last year. He said the issue of personal bills is separate from the issue of a committee chairperson’s ability to use their powers to deny legislators a hearing on bills.

“What we are doing here is eliminating personal bills, the other issue is separate,” Barbieri told the committee Tuesday. “In my mind, if we can get this done, it will force the issue at a later date with respect to the power of the chairmen. There are some legitimate reasons for keeping that power. There are also some concerns about that power.”

Introducing the resolution clears the way for it to return to the House State Affairs Committee for a full public hearing and debate.

“Let’s introduce this bill; let’s have a full discussion about personal bills and the ability to really use them and what’s the importance of them,” Barbieri added.

Rep James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, tried unsuccessfully to send House Resolution 2 straight to the House floor for a vote, but Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, convinced the committee to simply introduce the resolution, which allows the House State Affairs Committee to hold a full public hearing on it at a future date.

“This deserves a little bit of a pre-discussion,” Scott told the committee. “Because I have a feeling that when this hits the floor, if we don’t get some of the bugs worked out of it now in committee, it may become a big floor flight and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.