BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho House came to a brief halt Monday after a handful of Republican lawmakers attempted to upend the process used to determine which bills advance inside the state Capitol.
The 20-minute delay was part of an ongoing struggle between lawmakers unhappy that their bills are being blocked and legislative leadership who counter they’re protecting a system that has been in place for decades. Similar political infighting plagued the House last year, with a small group of freshmen and sophomore GOP lawmakers sparring under Republican legislative leaders’ decisions and causing massive delays by arguing over legislative procedural rules.
The fight began when Rep. Christy Zito, a Republican from Hammett, asked House members to pull a personal bill that would reform Idaho’s lobbying laws from the House Ways and Means Committee so it could receive a full hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.
In Idaho, lawmakers can introduce legislation by either filing a personal bill —where they almost always die due to a lack of hearing — or introduce a bill through a legislative committee.
While choosing a legislative committee is the preferred approach, that process largely requires getting support from the committee’s chair. Without it, lawmakers often find themselves shut out from getting their bills heard. Personal bills offer a way for lawmakers to show their constituents they’re working on issues, even if the bills aren’t going anywhere.
For example, it’s not unusual for Democratic lawmakers, who make up just a small portion of the Republican-dominant Legislature, to file personal bills on issues like raising the minimum wage, banning gay conversion therapy or expanding Medicaid eligibility.
“If you want to make a statement, you have a personal bill,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican from Oakley. “If you want to make a difference, you go through the committee.”
Just nine other lawmakers out of the 70 House representatives voted with Zito. Rep. Paulette Jordan, who is running for governor, was the only Democrat to vote with the far right Republicans.
“I just feel like State Affairs is the germane committee and I would like the opportunity to have the hearing there,” Zito said before the vote took place.
Bedke later told reporters that he’s encouraged more of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, created last year by the House’s more conservative members, has chosen the legislative committee route than last year.