Voters should reject the SJR 102 legislative power grab

Voters should reject the SJR 102 legislative power grab
By Ben Ysursa, Bruce Newcomb and Jim Jones

The three of us participated in one or more of the three branches of Idaho’s government for decades and, as they say, we have “seen it all.” Well, except a legislative power grab so brazen as Senate Joint Resolution 102 (SJR 102), which would allow the Legislature to call itself into special session upon the request of 60% of the members of each House.

The special session could only consider the “subjects” listed in the request petition, but it is not hard to envision how that would work. Legislators wanting to get some favorable publicity in an election year would start a petition to meet on their favored “subjects,” a rather inclusive word. If the petition listed “taxes,” the special session could consider proposals throughout the State’s voluminous tax code. Other legislators might say they would sign the petition only if the subject of “healthcare” or “education” or whatever else was to be considered. In other words, getting the required 60% could entail listing practically every subject under the sun.

A special session called by the Governor under our Constitution can only last a maximum of 20 days. The special session he recently called lasted just one day. A special session called by the Legislature under SJR 102 could last for days, weeks or months, opening up the possibility of a full-time Idaho Legislature.

The Idaho Legislature conducted a test-run of their idea last year. In clear violation of the Idaho Constitution, which allows only the Governor to call a special session, the House simply refused to say it had concluded business and claimed it could remain in session until the end of the year. First, if it really does have such power already, why does it need SJR 102? Second, look at the fiasco that occurred when it did reconvene in November for no good reason. The House saw the introduction of 29 bills, none of which made it through the legislative process. It was merely political theater, which wasted $100,000 of taxpayer money.

When Idaho’s constitutional framers were meeting in Boise in 1889, they were not certain how often the Legislature should meet to consider State business. They were wary of having the body in session more than absolutely necessary. Some proposed the Legislature meet every other year, while others contended every third year would suffice. Some even thought every fourth year would be enough. The framers decided to try every other year, figuring they could always go to triennial sessions if that was too often. They provided for the Governor to call special sessions in case an emergency arose between sessions. In 1968, legislators convinced voters to approve a constitutional amendment providing for annual sessions.

Granting the Governor the exclusive right to call special sessions was one element of the concept of governmental checks and balances, which was of paramount importance to the framers. They would not have dreamed of giving the Legislature the power to call itself into session. The Legislature demonstrated the folly of that idea with its shameful, wasteful rump session last year. There was absolutely no emergency to be dealt with. Many just wanted to use the gathering to snipe at the Governor for measures taken earlier to combat the pandemic. Most all of those measures had lapsed by the time the session was held in violation of the Constitution.

The Legislature has become dysfunctional in recent years, choosing to devote much of its time to tilting with meaningless culture war windmills. Important concerns of the voters–like providing for construction and maintenance of public school facilities which the Constitution requires the State to do, or providing property tax relief to homeowners–are neglected. Approval of SJR 102 would only add to the problem of legislative malfeasance.
Please vote NO on SJR 102.

Ben Ysursa served as Idaho Secretary of State from 2003 to 2015. He served as Deputy in the office from 1974 to 1976 and as Chief Deputy from 1976 to 2002.
Bruce Newcomb served 20 years in the Idaho House of Representatives (1996 through 2006) and was Speaker of the House for 8 years (1999 through 2006).
Jim Jones served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017).

Please follow and like us: