March Madness

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Jim Guthrie

If youíre a college basketball fan you no doubt enjoyed the Final Four games, and for that matter the entire tournament. Even though the games conclude in April, it has always been known as March Madness. Same could be said about the legislative session this year. Crazy in March and a notch or two north of that anytime we go into April.

Difference is the basketball tournament has a scheduled time for conclusion. The Legislatureís end date is open-ended and therein the problem. Iím willing to bet that most of us have either told our youngsters or been told as teenagers ourselves that nothing good happens after midnight. Well, in my opinion when it comes to the lawmaking process productivity in April is an anomaly not the norm.

In recognition of this I attempted to introduce a bill that would place a hard stop in Idaho code stating that the Legislature must adjourn sine die no later than 11:59 p.m. on the last Friday in March. I believe this would prompt us to focus on policy that really is necessary and stop the practice of bringing the heavy lifting or controversial bills late in the session when people are tired and cranky.

Too many times the public is carved out of the process as decisions are rushed, rules are suspended, and legislation is passed without thoughtful deliberation. Take April of this year for example.

In the past few days we have dealt with or are still considering legislation on the voter initiative process, Medicaid expansion, health and welfare funding, highway funding, major remodel of our Capitol, budget shortfalls, and session ending rules policy. All things that could have been addressed many weeks ago.

Donít get me wrong ó itís healthy that we have difference of opinion and engage in spirited debate on the issues. Our state is one of diverse personality in terms of topography, industry, economy, recreation, as well as many other aspects, and certainly our citizens.

Something important to me and those I represent might be of little consequence to someone from north Idaho and vice versa. There must be an element of compromise and the ability to look at the overall benefit to Idaho while keeping each of our districts in the forefront.

With all that in mind and because of that political reality it furthers my argument that controversial bills need to be brought forth earlier so positions that are contrary can be properly vetted.

As I pen this article, I received word that Gov. Brad Little has signed S 1204aa, aaH. This is the Medicaid expansion bill that has seen more than its share of controversy. Prop 2 passed last November with over 60 percent of the vote and this bill places restrictions on that policy that will cost the state millions to enforce and likely will be challenged in court.

I opposed this legislation and had hoped that a cleaner bill would find its way to the governorís desk and Iím betting he did, too. That said, itís the policy we will be obligated to deal with for the time being.

The dominos are starting to fall here in Boise and odds are that by the time this article is read we will have finally adjourned for the year. My bill to limit session length was not allowed introduction this year but I intend to push for a do-not-exceed date next session.

After his very concise inauguration speech on Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy quipped that people quit listening if you talk for more than 10 minutes. I know this much. When March Madness at the Capitol goes into April, people get nervous, they are tired of listening, and no one wins.

This column was written by state Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom.

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